Thinking aloud: what is it and for which digital product is it worthwhile?

The definition of thinking aloud and the definition of UX reflect each other: they are the story of the experiences a user has felt or gained in the interaction

Thinking aloud is, according to Jakob Nielsen of the very famous Nielsen/Normal Group, the prince of usability testing. Let's discover the features and benefits of this technique and learn how it can help sites, apps and e-commerce and how it is adopted by crowdtesting.


Thinking aloud: a definition and its advantages

Thinking aloud is a typical technique of usability testing and, as the name suggests, requires the user to verbalize (aloud) their thoughts, actions, intentions and difficulties encountered during interaction with a tested product or service.

Artful thinking aloud requires providing the user not only with the product to be tested, but with a series of tasks to complete and to verbalize their thoughts as they explore and attempt to achieve the goal. The result is precious: thinking aloud allows qualitative insights, i.e. information that would otherwise be difficult to detect because they involve reflections, expectations and criticalities.

Among the advantages of thinking aloud:

  • Capturing preferences about the product and thus its effectiveness in real time (right during use!) and avoiding reliance on post-use surveys;
  • highlighting and commenting on common misunderstandings about certain elements and drawing advice on a possible redesign;
  • if used in the design phase, allow to reassure UX designers about the goodness of the choices they made, or help them make a choice (A/B testing);
  • have a better understanding of the user's mental model, as a real "window on the soul".

Thinking aloud: for which products it is ideal

The definition of thinking aloud and that of user experience are reflected: both are the story of the experiences (emotions, perceptions, pain points) that a user has felt or acquired in the interaction.

This feature makes it adaptable to any digital product (websites, apps, mobile design, e-commerce, a game) that needs a usability test, but also extremely flexible at every stage of the development cycle. Thinking aloud can also fit perfectly in the management of projects with Agile methodology, intervening from the first paper prototypes to the final implementation or integrating with other more functional tests.

This thinking aloud technique can also be used to analyze the navigation flows of a complex end2end product. Thinking aloud reveals the user's mental paths, cognitive processes and usage habits with both a precise user experience (UX) and a more or less outlined user interface (UI).

The added value of the crowd in the thinking aloud methodology

The thinking aloud technique is particularly used in crowdtesting, i.e. in platforms and services that make use of a community of profiled testers to whom to submit a product at different stages of its release.

The focus on the user experience of a digital service or product is increasingly strong. For this reason crowdtesting is a fundamental asset: it offers an objective and supported perspective typical of testers who are related to the target of the interaction to be tested and who provide empirical evidence to project insights and design inputs.

Crowdtesting leverages thinking aloud to analyze the recordings of testers as they complete the given tasks. This task identification phase is especially important when the test is conducted remotely: it will be necessary to prepare a use case with precise objectives (don't worry, Quality Leaders will take care of this!). Only by understanding the task well, the tester can tell aloud his impressions, how quickly he finds the information or what did not work compared to his expectations.

The video and audio recordings are then reworked and condensed by our network of UX researchers into a report that categorizes the most common narratives and highlights friction points and possible improvements, as well as aspects that positively impacted the user experience. Another huge benefit, even more significant in this day and age: testing doesn't require physical proximity because it's done remotely.

Yes, you can really say it out loud: a memorable user experience comes from the suggestions made during thinking aloud.


Let's see this in practice 

Curious to see what results you can get in the real world? Download the case study here below to see how UNGUESS helped Costa Crociere eCommerce increase its conversion rate by 25%.


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