For all the analytics that exist now to measure how users are using your web application, there’s still one gray area that is hard to measure. What exactly is your user thinking? Why did they find that interface you designed so hard to use?

How do you know what your users are thinking? The best way to do this is what User Experience designers call “Think Alouds.” This is a usability session where you watch a real user interact with your site for the first time, and they think aloud as they use the site.

In this video, AgilityFeat’s UX lead Mariana Lopez walks us through how to do a UX Think Aloud. AgilityFeat CEO Arin Sime plays the user in this video, attempting (and failing) to buy some train tickets on a European train site. This is the first time that Arin has used this site, and so you see the value of how users interact with a site for the first time.

Here are a few key takeaways from the video.

During a “Think Aloud”

The user just thinks aloud. Whatever enters their mind as they decide what to click on and how to deal with any errors they run into.

The UX designer remains silent. Resist the temptation to help the user or answer any questions. Let them interact with the site naturally, even if that means failing in their goal. You need to see (and hear) how they interact without your help. Don’t interrupt them.

After the “Think Aloud”

Make a list of the incidents that occur.

Critical Incidents

These are the big problems that users run into which prevent them from accomplishing their objectives. Pay particular attention anytime the user says “I’m confused” or “I don’t know what to do next”.

Medium Incidents

The user was still able to complete their task, but what made it less efficient for them? What held them back?

Positive Incidents

Don’t forget to note the good things! These are the things that you don’t want to change in any redesign. What did the user like? What positive surprises did they encounter? Pay attention to phrases like “That was easy!”.

Simple and Powerful

A think aloud is a simple and very powerful technique to understand how real users interact with your designs. Keep your paper and pen handy to take notes about comments the user makes, and video record the session whenever possible. Your designs will improve if you truly listen to what your users are thinking in real time!