When user testing how do you record positive or negative body language? Do you use observed shifts in body language or facial expressions to consciously probe further about what the user thinks or feels about the product or task they are completing?

  • Anybody seen this imdb.com/title/tt1235099 ? if half of what's there is true it's just awesome. I'd like to read some things on human gestures and face expressions. Jul 20, 2010 at 13:59

5 Answers 5


With 'picture in picture' video (so its synched to what's happening on screen).

Being sensitive to body language is part of normal human empathy.

A good facilitator will pick up on this along with the many other clues and will probe if the user is stressed / happy / stuck.

  • What do you do to use these clues to enhance your testing? Do you have any special means to record changes to review the footage later?
    – Matt Goddard
    Jun 30, 2010 at 9:25
  • 2
    Have learned it's important to be recording sound, not just video and/or screen recording. We mark sound moments on the video frames (recorded at a lower frame rate on purpose) and then look at these moments of expression and what user and mouse movements are happening at the time. My old boss called these sound-expressions.
    – Susan R
    Jun 30, 2010 at 13:44
  • Yes you want the audio recording with the video, to capture the 'Thinking Aloud'.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 6, 2010 at 9:42

For recording body language during usability testing sessions I've found the behaviors listed in this coding form from measuring UX (pdf) quite useful. Things like frowning, fidgeting, or leaning in close to the screen are often as meaningful as verbal remarks.

Observing body language and facial expressions requires focused attention, it is really easy to miss a frown or a quick smile. If you have the luxury of having an extra observer present, they can mark occurring behaviors and expressions during the test. The facilitator already has enough to do during the test, but it can be helpful when he is alert to nonverbal signs.

Why is this useful? When you're not just searching for issues, but also trying to achieve a particular emotional experience, statements like 'most users reacted to this page with surprise' can be quite valuable. Besides that, video recordings of nonverbal behavior work wonders in selling/presenting the results of your user testing: showing angry and frustrated reactions to an issue really helps in getting the message across to the stakeholders.


I'm always wary of my own amateur psychology skills when it comes to interpreting facial expression and body language. I try to use these signs as a guide that something needs further exploration, instead of trying to 'read' them.

  • If you get along fine in the normal day to day social world you're probably very good at interpreting facial expression and body language Ali. The difficult bit is being able to ask questions to get to the bottom of WHY they're expressing the emotion.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 6, 2010 at 9:36

I would be careful about making too many judgements based on body language unless you have experience in this. In analysing interviews there are various techniques you can use, such as counting the frequency of certain gestures or facial expressions, but you have to be sure you are making the right interpretation and be consistent on what consitutes a certain gesture.

Apart from for very strong expressions/body language I wouldn't record them when analysing the video, but they can be used as a guide as to when the facilitator should interact with the user during the session.

  • ... but they can be used as a guide as to when the facilitator should interact with the user during the session. .............Exactly.
    – PhillipW
    Jul 6, 2010 at 9:53

Non-verbal reactions help you contextualize verbal feedback. They also help you direct the user's discussion of the system under test. Alone, non-verbal signals are very easy to misinterpret, which is why you should follow up with the user to understand what is going on.

It is very powerful to name the behavior, and ask the user to expand. Just give them enough conversational space to disagree with your observation if they need to: "It looked like you might have grimaced there. Were you reacting to something?" "Oh, I wasn't grimacing. [grimace] It's just that this scroll bar is driving me nuts..."

I generally don't write them down specifically--they provide connotation to other notes. But if I were being a pure observer, rather than the facilitator (and therefore unable to ask follow-up questions), I would write down my impression but flag it as interpretation. "User seemed to be confused by dialog box." "User hesitated and grimaced when asked to sort items."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.