28 May 2012 by Ammneh Azeim
Emotional response cards: a simple user research tool

Being emotional is often frowned upon in a business environment. But on a recent research project we decided to test out a new tool to help people express their feelings and provide us with better interview results.

We call the tool emotional response cards. In this blog post we are going to tell you how we used these cards and how they helped our research.

The Tool

We adapted our emotional response cards from a couple of other examples we have seen. We started with Microsoft’s product reaction cards, a set of 118 descriptive words that describe product characteristics. We reduced that to 50 terms, and tried to select words that were opposites or described opposing characteristics similar to a bipolar emotional response test (or BERT).

We then printed the terms on standard business card stock. Rather than have people use the cards to describe their reactions to a product, we were conducting interviews about participants experiences with complex services.

Emotional response cards

How We Used It

Last fall we travelled to four Western Canadian cities to interview ordinary people about the services they receive from a large organization. This organization provides services that people use just about every day and over long periods of time.

Our interviews were divided into two parts. The initial portion was a normal interview with questions and answers, as well as the usual probing and discussion initiated by the facilitator. We found that many people would talk about the services they received, but they sometimes couldn’t describe their experiences in detail, or could only relate them in a superficial way.

The second part of our interviews required the participants to look at our set of emotional response cards and choose the ones that described the services they mentioned in the first part of the interview. We noticed that the participants opened up and were able to articulate the usefulness or the lack of it in the services better. The cards gave participants a vocabulary they could use to describe their experiences.

We devoted an equal amount of time, roughly, to each activity.

The Results

So what made emotional response cards a useful tool during the interviews?

  • People remember emotions. People often remember how they felt about a product or service more easily than how they interacted with it. When participants started with the emotion, they were able to expand on the experience they had with the service.
  • People need memory triggers. Open-ended questions are good, but the cards helped remind people of their experiences, especially the ones that happened far in the past. We thought the cards helped participants reconstruct their memories by linking together the emotions they felt over the whole experience.
  • Props help people express themselves. We noticed during our sessions that participants would spread out the cards, pick them up, stack them, and engage in other kinds of physical manipulation as they started to describe their experiences.
  • Emotions keep people honest. Some people intend to be polite when talking about a product or a service. However, we felt our participants were much more frank when choosing the emotional response cards that described their interaction with our client (especially compared to the first part of the interview).

In summary, we think emotional response cards helped us collect more useful data from these interviews. If you want to try them out you can download our template (below) and print your own set on Avery 05371 white business card stock.

Big thanks to Gene Smith who provided most of the content for this blog post and came up with the idea of using emotional response cards in the project.

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