Combining Contextual Inquiry with Eye Tracking

With technology becoming more and more complex, it is key to understand how actual users interact with challenging applications. Observing users work with these systems while at work or home is bound to yield rich qualitative data.


Objective Digital’s article, “Combining Contextual Inquiry with Eye Tracking” in UX Magazine describes how eye tracking call center operators revealed some pretty amazing insights. It revealed how a stressful environment coupled with an ineffective interface can result in bigger issues, like poor customer satisfaction and high staff turnover.

Needless to say, the findings from the eye tracking analysis put a lot of arguments to rest and were the basis for the design decisions for the systems improvement.

Visual storytelling in UX


Good UX is all about understanding your customer, their needs, behaviours and motivations. Here at Objective we work hard to make sure that we understand our customers and their needs allowing them to understand the research insights that we gather through pictures, infographics rather than just relying on words alone.

For a recent project we conducted a whole series of contextual inquiries where we visited participants at their home, to really understand them and everything around them. Over a three hour visit the amount of insights that were collated was amazing and it is always difficult to know what to do with all that information.

Instead of producing a text heavy report we decided that a more effective way to present the rich insights was to produce a series of animated storyboards. Avoiding a ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ approach we illustrated the insights and stories from the research in a way which was approachable yet still immediately understandable.

The result is that the client can share insight-heavy research across multiple teams and they can immediately understand what the problem is and a deeper understanding of their customers and their needs. Although using the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is slightly corny, these pictures can summarise 36 hours of research!

GE Capital shows the way with a high-tech eye tracking lab

General Electric (GE) is a household name synonymous to innovation. Objective Digital recently teamed up with the User Experience (UX) team at GE Capital in Melbourne to help setup their next-generation eye tracking lab in Melbourne as part of their new UX initiatives. It was a lab that made even our experienced eye tracking consultants drool. So what was so special about the eye tracking setup?

Let’s look at how the setup was designed to ensure that every step of a usability session would run smoothly:


The eye tracking testing lab in Melbourne is where the action happens. This is where the user or customer comes in contact with the product. GE’s brightly lit and spacious testing lab meant that participants would feel comfortable. Since it looked like someone’s office, participants would not have to go too much out of their own normal working environment.

Traditional usability testing involves assessing the usability of a product by watching the behaviour of the participants. With the latest eye tracker from Tobii, the X2-30 Compact, GE are now able to see where the customers are looking at. The eye tracker is so portable that it evens fits in your pocket! This results in a drastic reduction in research effect as participants forget that their eyes are being tracked and display their natural behaviour.

Eye Tracking lab Melbourne

GE’s Eye Tracking lab In Melbourne

Mobile Device Eye Tracker

GE Capital also have a Tobii Mobile Device Eye Tracking Stand. For eye tracking mobile apps. It looks like this.

GE's mobile device eye tracker in Melbourne


Tobii’s eye tracking software, Tobii Studio allows seamless and simultaneously eye tracking and recording of the participant’s activities. Showing a real user talking about your product (e.g. how they didn’t notice a call to action or couldn’t make sense of the information on a page) is the easiest way to convince stakeholders of the value of usability testing and the importance of improving the design.

Tobii X2-30 Compact Eye Tracker in Melbourne at GE Capital

Eye Tracker in Melbourne research Lab with GE Capital

Observing Eye Tracking in Melbourne

Even better than showing stakeholders recorded clips of usability sessions is to let them watch the sessions live. GE had this covered with a big screen showing 3 videos at the same time:

  1. the stimulus with the participant’s eye gaze superimposed on top of it,
  2. the participant’s face to capture their facial expressions, and
  3. the fly-on-the-wall view of the testing lab to observe the things participants usually point at on the stimulus using their fingers.
Observation room for eye tracking in Melbourne

Observation room at GE Capital

Observers also had a choice of viewing the eye tracking session through a one-way mirror in the adjoining room (think CSI!). The room also had a live recording software which synced all video inputs into one.

Dark room with one-way mirror and eye tracking live recording

Dark room with one-way mirror and live recording

Collaborating the eye tracker

GE’s massive observation room also doubled as a collaboration room where designers, developers and other stakeholders can participate in rapid iterative design workshops while watching the usability sessions. This means that design changes can happen on-the-fly without having to wait for the findings to be analysed in detail and the big fat report to be produced.

Collaboration room

Collaboration room with multiple screens to view the sessions

Both GE and Objective Digital are excited about their eye tracking lab in Melbourne and looking forward to the new innovations coming out of GE.

How has your experience been setting up a usability lab in your company? We would love to hear from you in the comments below. Feel free to get in touch if you want to have a chat about setting up Tobii eye tracking usability labs in Australia, New Zealand or South East Asia.

Destination: Bandung, Indonesia

I recently spent 2 weeks in Bandung, Indonesia with a great project team who are extremely interested in pioneering UX in Indonesia and ensuring UX becomes a fundamental part of their processes that is embedded into all their digital products.

Mar 2014 Update: We are now selling eye trackers in Indonesia and have a new Bahasa Indonesia website

Project objectives:

  1. Facilitate the learning and development of the project team in UX strategy and assist with integrating UX into their everyday practices.
  2. Conduct a full-scale UCD project to develop a new travel website for Indonesian domestic travellers.

In order to meet both objectives we ran a number of UX ‘showcases’ and then got workshop participants to conduct the UCD activities for their new travel website. This allowed participants to immediately put into practice what they were learning.

The UX showcases were attended by 15-20 people daily and included the following topics:

  • Introductions to UX and UCD
  • Psychology of users and UX
  • Stakeholder discussions
  • Heuristic reviews
  • Competitor & expert reviews
  • Persona development, user journeys & scenarios
  • Storyboards & key user tasks
  • Information architecture, navigation & card sorting
  • Sketching & wire-framing
  • Prototyping & stop-motion videos
  • Usability testing & hallway testing
  • Eye tracking in Indonesia


The team were very responsive to UX and the methodology being taught, and were eager to get busy. They had us set up in a dedicated “UX War Room” for 2 weeks which quickly became full of posters, post-it notes and lots of activity!



Image           - For more on the stop-motion activity, see my previous blog  (make sure you check out the Youtube links to the finished products from the stop-motion workshop – amazing stuff!)

Project outcomes:

  1. We were able to successfully assist the team with applying the knowledge and theories learned in the sharing sessions to their new website development.
  2. We were able to use the data gathered during the 2 weeks to build an interactive prototype of the new website in order to provide a ‘proof of concept’ to senior management.
  3. The team is super pumped about UX and this is spreading through the organisation!

Image- Project, support and management teams at our farewell lunch.

Image- Members of our awesome project team!

Visit to the Bandung Digital Valley 

On a side note, we got a chance to visit the ‘Bandung Digital Valley‘ in the Research and Development Building. Check out the photos from this place – so cool!



ImageImage-New friends at the Bandung Digital Valley

I’m looking forward to the Indonesian team visiting us in Sydney in a couple of weeks. They will be here to observe the next phase of this project which will be hallway testing with eye tracking on the interactive prototype. It’s also a chance for us to repay some of the great hospitality shown to us during our stay in Bandung :) Stay tuned for an update.

Get in touch to see how we can help your organisation get excited about UX!


What UX can learn from viral videos

When we think of viral videos, we think of cute cats doing cute things. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, viral videos do spread like wild fire. Viral video marketing has become a clever way for companies to pitch their brand and products. So what can we learn from viral videos to design better user experiences?


I’ve been attending some of the classes offered by General Assembly Australia’s Online Summer School. One of the courses I took part in was the presentation on Viral Video Marketing by Barry Pousman. Here are some insights I learnt:

Content is king…once again

Barry explains how every viral video fits somewhere on the matrix below:


How people feel about your design is based on what content you put into it. And what content you put into your design depends on what effect you’re trying to have on your users. Here are the links to the videos mentioned either to enjoy (or not enjoy):

(keep scrolling down for my quality blog content)

Popular ads: Old Spice

Rebecca Black

Charlie Bit My Finger

Pepper-spraying cop

Even though a video could be perceived to be disingenuous and is generally disliked, it could fall into the category of being ‘so bad, it’s good’. It’s important to realise that the prompt to share a video can be for a combination of reasons.

The most successful viral video of all time ‘Gangnam Style‘ by PSY managed to cross cultural boundaries. It wasn’t just a catchy tune with a funny dance routine and a cheesy video. But most importantly, the dance routine looked easy enough to imitate and represented a universally known activity – horse riding.

Context-based packaging

A lot of good videos out there don’t get noticed because of the title of the video or the thumbnail fails to grab attention. On the other hand, a lot of bad videos get clicked on because of their titles and thumbnails. Barry mentions that one of the best ways to grab user attention is to package your content with something timely and relevant to the user. For example, during the Olympics, products with the Olympic logo tend to sell more than the same products without it.

Keep an eye out for trends

To make your design and content contextually relevant, keep a look out for what’s coming up in the calendar (holidays, world events, etc.) to predict the trends. Marketers always grab onto the next big holiday, even if it’s 6 months away!


Finally, what happens when UX meets a viral video? My colleague Dan Sorvik decided to find out. I’ll leave you with a potentially viral video that my colleague Dan Sorvik made yesterday. It’s Sweet Brown Meets UX: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for Bad UX!

Fake form fields for a better user experience

Being a Sydney-based UX company we do heaps of work in finance, particularly with online forms. Typically an online form, usually comprising multiple screens, will present some design challenges:

- collect all the required data, while being as short as possible

- collect accurate (formal) data, while using everyday (informal) language

- give the user a sense of control, while demanding intricate details (in a linear order).

Modern form design is a creative art to ensure that people (a) complete the process without deciding to give up and (b) feel emotionally positive after completing the process; if the customer feels the process was demanding and tiring, and even, well, *degrading* because of the personal disclosure to an inhuman interlocutor, then chances are your customer relationship is spoiled from the start. 

Recently we were designing a form in a workshop with a client and we discovered a design issue that demonstrated some of these competing demands, and we ended up with perhaps an unusual solution. The form, like many others, required some disclosure of the financial position of the customer. Part of this was their employment details. The form we had sketched had fields for ‘employer’ and ‘job title’. Our client explained that actually they need the ‘job type’ and not the ‘job title’. Job types are selected from a (long) list and are things like:

  • Manager
  • Clerical assistant
  • Labourer
  • Teacher
  • Production manager
  • Warehouse manager
  • Sales minion* 

Whereas job titles are free text entry and are things like:

  • Manager, retail division
  • Senior administration supervisor
  • Granite technician
  • English teacher
  • Head of plant operations
  • Senior logistics manager
  • Sales prodigy*

You can see that ‘job titles’ often carry a sense of identity and can infer status (there’s more Senior and Principal UX professionals than Standard ones ;-) whereas ‘job types’ are averaging. Chances are that declaring a job title leads to a little flush of pride whilst declaring a job type leads to a little bit of reflection. With the form in question, and indeed with any form design, we want to keep the user feeling just chipper whilst they fill it in (there’s always some checkboxes that the client wants them to tick, right?). We felt that swapping ‘job title’ for ‘job type’ would take too much shine off the emotional wellbeing of our customer during this particular engagement. We decided to leave in ‘job title’ so people could tell us something special about their work, and then collect ‘job type’ straight after**.

Asking for data that you don’t need – the fake field – is of course artifice, and maybe could be considered a patronising lie that breaches the spirit of trust that should exist between user and provider… but seen in a different way it is quite usual to gather extra, incidental information. In a conversation, with a real person, without a computer screen and an un-emotional form in the way, people get a sense of dialog and emotional engagement from the interaction. A lot of extra information is transferred in the process of managing the interpersonal interaction. When designing a form, we acknowledge the compromises compared to that proper human engagement, and we look for ways in which we can take tiny steps back towards where we prefer to be. In this case, the ‘job title’ field is not data that gets kept, but it’s still important to ask someone; could you imagine asking someone what sort of job they had but not asking what they actually do? Even though it compromised our key goal of a short, fast form, sometimes satisfaction is more important than plain old efficiency.

Can you think of other examples where a fake field might help the experience?


* not really

** (we’d love to test this out and see if a form with ‘job title’ has higher satisfaction ratings than one with just ‘job type’ – maybe one day we will – for now we’re just measuring the form against performance goals)

Jon Duhig is a Grand Wizard at Objective Digital

Qantas A380 disruptions are not the only thing bothering passengers right now

It’s official, the Next Generation for Qantas has no people.

I am presently sitting on a flight from Sydney to Melbourne with Qantas. I have just had the most uncertain airport check in experience of my life. 

From the moment I entered the departure hall, until I boarded the aircraft, every step left me with unanswered questions.

Qantas are redefining the future of flying. In a world where airlines are too expensive to run and companies spend money coping with legal action and bad press, the hunger for profit has finally meant that we customers are left to deal directly with poorly designed technology, instead of having a lovely person as a buffer between sanity and IT.

It all started when I couldn’t find the check in desk!

As I entered the airport, I saw a strange looking wooden structure in the centre of the room. On which, all the signs pointed to the right and there was no indication of what I was supposed to do.

As I am 6′ 6” I need extra legroom and therefore I have to see someone at a desk so they can ask me if I am happy to be the first one out of the exit when the engine falls off.

So, the first question presented itself “What’s going on here?” 


When I finally found the check in kiosks, they were all standing in a diagonal row. Prompting the next question, “Where do I line up?” 

When a kiosk was free I presented myself and chose to enter my name, the only information I had about my flight, as Kylie had booked it for me. It found my booking!

I was fairly impressed. It looked quite usable.

So, I continued with the kiosk’s process that was clearly indicated with steps on a timeline at the top of the screen.

That’s where usability ended and stress took hold.

It started talking about Q Bag Tags. I was thinking ‘what is a Q Bag Tag and how many extra bag tags do I need?’ I thought they must have one at the counter for me, so I ordered 2. But I had three bags… then, to my surprise, it started printing bag tags… ah, it prints bag tags, I realised… Thanks for telling me! I had no idea what a bloody Q Bag Tag was, nor was I aware that there were no counters anymore.

Then another question arose, “Where do I go to put it on my bag? Do I just go and stand over there and do it?” I actually saw one guy put his tags on in front of the kiosk… this met with disapproval from passengers in the queue!

Then, after an uncertain wait, a few bag receipts were printed and my boarding pass was printed out, indicating the end of the process at the kiosk. I walked off with 2 bag tags and 3 bags. I then asked one of the 3 staff I found on the floor of the busy departures hall,where do I get another bag tag?’ She said, ‘didn’t you get three? Go back and use your boarding pass to get another tag.’ 

I murmered to myself.. why didn’t it confirm that when I was at the kiosk the first time?  I went back over to the kiosk and looked for the boarding pass option to get started. Nothing in the list… I entered my name again.

Then I went through the whole process again and got another bag tag.

Now, what do I do about oversized baggage?

I thought, I can’t go over to the bag drop because no one is there to help me.

Blood pressure rising, I found another person, and after waiting for a few minutes, they took me to a little terminal in the middle of the room, took a sticker off the oversized baggage tag and entered it into the system. She said, I need to know how heavy the bag is, and I told her it was 20 kg.. She trusted me ;)

Then she said, “Are you going to put this [roll up display poster] in as over sized baggage?” “I don’t know”, I said. “Do I need to?”

So next I went over to the bag drop off area and pressed a few buttons and weighed the only bag I had. Thats when the system told me I was 13 kg over weight and it was going to cost me $130. A kick in the guts after all this mucking around.

My non-oversized bag shushed off down the conveyor.  I was wondering “will I see it again?”

So I looked at the bag drop interface…. where do I pay the $130 oversized back fee please? Nothing…

I asked another staff again…And do you know what she said?!

“At the [f***ing] kiosk!”

Back to the kiosk I went. And as I approached the kiosk for the third time, an old guy who approached from the other direction accused me of taking his spot! Line the kiosks up on the wall please Qantas!

Then the same staff member I had spoken to twice already came over and said “You’re back again!’. I laughed… and thought “idiot”.

This time I worked out how to scan my silly boarding pass instead of typing in my name. Yes, it took me three visits to work this out!

I paid my money.

Then, I had to take my big bags over to the overly busy oversized baggage counter. Of course it was busy, no one was checking the bags carefully. I left my very expensive eye tracker equipment on the floor with a pile of other oversized bags, all sitting there t
ogether, hoping they make it to Melbourne.

How did I feel now?

I left the check in area anxious and shaking. I was wondering whether I would get my flight on time and I had arrived at the airport 75 minutes early!

Plus after all that, I had forgotten to get more leg room! And what’s more when I got on the plane the exit rows were basically empty!

When I got to the other end waiting at the conveyor belt to pick up my baggage, I felt certain it wasn’t going to arrive. Fortunately it did. 

 So why did all this go wrong?

1) Keep people informed 

With processes like this, that have only a few staff managing hundreds of transactions. One hundred percent of passenger types should be catered for by one hundred percent of the system. If this isn’t possible then the passengers need to be clearly informed about what to do at every step of the way on both the interface they are using and in the physical environment around them.

2) Test everything

My guess is that Qantas made sure that the interfaces on the machines, that require interaction, work really well, but they didn’t link the machines together at an overall process level.

3) Time in motion 

Qantas also didn’t consider the physical movement of people and put the wrong transactions on the wrong machines.  Why should I have to go back and line up at a busy kiosk to pay for excess baggage when I have already dropped my bag off!!

4) Help!

Qantas took all the staff away before the glitches in the system were ironed out.

It is obvious to me that different people where responsible for each of my interactions with Qantas and its technology interfaces during check in. I am sure that the program manager on the Next Gen project was too busy to consider all the parts of the puzzle at a high level and I guess that they didn’t have a team that was responsible for the overall customer experience.

I am sure the checkin kiosk and website were usability tested in isolation and the rest was left to engineers and builders.

So long… 

I am looking forward to my Virgin Blue flight home and I will not be flying Qantas again.

All these things could have been avoided with some pre planning, testing with passengers, clear signage and more staffing.

This form of customer abuse is simply irresponsible.

If you have had a similar experience, then vote with your feet.


James Breeze is the Chief Experience Officer of Objective Digital, a Sydney based user expience consultancy.

OD FAQs | How do you convince the executive of the value of user experience design?

During the AIMIA Digital Customer Experience forum, that I chaired this morning, there was considerable discussion about how to justify the work UX people do and have it accepted as part of the business culture.  Difficulties with acceptance often occur in large enterprise where traditional cultures are strong and therefore it is difficult to update process. However, the landscape is changing.

I have been encouraged in recent years that enterprise has accepted the importance of customer (and staff) research during the product development process.  Companies like Telstra, Fairfax, Sensis, News Corp, Westpac, BT Financial and CBA have their own internal customer experience teams.  Most importantly, these teams are not just working on website and mobile apps. The great ones are shaping the entire business! UX Leads are overseeing product design, not just focussing on the digital bits. 

Another trend for these teams, that has been slow to take off in Australia, is the consideration of more than just the technology interaction during the design process.  Great UX teams are thinking about how the entier customer journey is ‘designed’. Here’s a concept from Opher Yom-Tov, from BT Financial and previously IDEO.

 The design of a train, in Opher’s example, did not just consider the configuration of the carriage and seating. You can see in the image that the “Train Ride” is the 8th step in the process. If you don’t design the 7 steps before that, then the passenger might not even board the train!

So how do companies make this happen?

One project at a time.
Don’t use too many motherhood statements of user experience principles and try to preach them to the uninitiated. Instead do a project, do it properly and incorporate processes that engage users on the journey.  The outcomes will speak for themselves.


Seb Chan from The PowerHouse Museum, reckons that sharing results of research is an important part of the UX sales process. Even if you don’t have to, make sure that everyone knows that there is customer research available in a central repository (and that they can access it). The way that Seb encouraged sharing at the Powerhouse was to set up internal company blogs, where people began regularly sharing their insights from different projects. These blogs became so popular that they are now open to the World!


Opher suggested that you should treat the project as an education process where the business and technical stakeholders and project team members are taught what UX design means and why it is important. At project team meetings let people know what they are there and what each step will do for the project. When customers are engaged in the project take photos, these will be useful later, when you need to show everyone what you did.

Once these projects are launched and the business sees success the exec will come round to the user experience way of thinking.