With more companies than ever running research and testing using biometric equipment, we wanted to share our experience recruiting participants with chronic heart disease and other similar conditions to take part in UX research for the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Within a partnership with the BHF, People for Research recruited a few participants in 2019 to take part in 45-minute usability testing sessions, looking at specific pages on the organisation’s website and competitors’ digital platforms. We were looking for people who had been diagnosed with a heart condition in the last five years, or those close to someone who had received a diagnosis in the same period.

According to Will Round, Senior UI/UX Designer at the BHF, the goal was to “identify any issues with the newly redesigned conditions pages on our site, to dig deep into each user’s behaviour using biometric testing equipment and find any hidden faults which traditional testing would not be able to identify.”

During the sessions, each participant was connected to a set of innovative devices and was then asked to conduct simple tasks using prototypes, while their micro-interactions were recorded by the system.

About biometric testing

User researchers are now starting to use these innovative biometric and neuro-measurement tools more and more “to get reactions and data directly from the body without the filtering of conscious thought,” according to behavioural scientist Susan Weinschenk writing for Smashing Magazine. She adds:

“What if you could get their unconscious reactions? What if you could take a look inside your users’ brains and see what it is they aren’t saying, i.e. the things they themselves may not realise about their reactions to your product?

We know that most mental processing — including decision-making and emotional reactions — occurs unconsciously. […] People filter their feelings, decisions and reasons consciously and by that time you aren’t necessarily getting real data. Add to that the fact that users aren’t always truthful during user tests. They may not want to offend you by telling you they think your product is hard to use or boring.”

If you haven’t used or researched biometric testing, you may think it’s quite expensive and complex to run, but that is not always the case. While of some of these tools may require a higher investment, others are quite affordable and straightforward to set up and use. Here are some options listed by Susan Weinschenk with different degrees of complexity and pricing:

+ Galvanic Skin Response (GSR)
+ Respiration
+ Heart rate
+ Eye tracking
+ Facial coding
+ fEMG (Facial electromyography)
+ EEG (Electroencephalography)

Finding the right participants

People for Research managed to find suitable participants for this project using our reliable UK-wide database. Because the topic of the research was considered sensitive – as we were looking for either people with heart conditions or people who had a close family member affected by heart disease –, we took a few steps to ensure that we would be able to find the right people in the most efficient way.

👉 Where we suspected participants were suitable from information previously provided, we adapted our approach to the two audiences we were targeting and created content to contact people with heart disease and family members separately.

👉 We prepared less targeted content so we could contact a broader group of people, in case the targeted approach didn’t generate results right away.

👉 When working on a challenging brief, it’s a good idea to have some extra budget to offer a reward to anyone that can refer suitable participants – we planned for this at the beginning of the process.

👉 Because healthcare data is considered special data under GDPR, we made sure we went through all the steps to ensure compliance. Despite the fact that these participants had already given us informed consent to process their data, we asked them for special consent to process data about their health condition. Not only this is the legal procedure, it is also the ethical thing to do.

👉 We took special care when screening these participants on the phone, since some of them would be talking about having heart disease or having a close family member with a chronic illness, which could become quite emotional.

👉 On the day of the research – which ended up being one of the hottest days of 2019, and therefore not a good time to ask people with heart disease to go outside –, we contacted the participants to make sure they were still willing to participate. Following our usual process, we were available at any time to talk to the participants and help them find the right address or give necessary information.

“Recruiting users with a suitable background was paramount and we wouldn’t have been able to do it so swiftly without PFR,” said Will Round. “The participants were all perfectly suited to the tasks we wanted them to undertake. Each one had first-hand experience of cardiovascular disease and had investigated heart conditions using the web before.”

To summarise:

+ Adapt your content to your audience(s).
+ Make sure you have a plan B.
+ Having a bit of extra budget is helpful to help you run a referral campaign.
+ Ensure that your process is fully compliant and ethical.
+ When dealing with potentially sensitive issues like heart conditions, expect participants to become emotional.
+ Remain in touch with your participants to reduce drop-out rates.

The results

We were curious to find out more about the results from these testing sessions. According to Will Round, the sessions helped the BHF confirm some issues they were having with the designs and highlighted hidden flaws that had not considered. “This testing concerned the newly redesigned conditions pages and the exercise was part of a larger initiative of research focussed on the company’s rebrand. We’re still in the early stages of the site redesign and more areas will soon be overhauled.”

An exciting update, Will revealed, is that “findings from the sessions have already been implemented to improve the designs.” During the sessions, the researchers noticed that the users weren’t scrolling past a video on the page because they believed it signified that the page was ending: “we simply moved this video to another position on the page and resolved the issue.”

Eye tracking also allowed the researchers to identify that users weren’t noticing a side menu, so steps were taken to improve this element’s visibility – a couple of small, yet essential user experience details that could have been missed if the researchers were running traditional usability testing versus using biometric equipment.

What about you: have you considered using biometric devices in your sessions? Or maybe you have already used this technology in the past? Let us know if you have some feedback or get in touch if you would like to find out more about our user recruitment services for all kinds of testing by emailing



Owain Johns, Senior Project and Studio Manager

If you would like to find out more about our in-house participant recruitment service for user testing or market research get in touch on 0117 921 0008 or

At People for Research, we recruit participants for UX and usability testing and market research. We work with award winning UX agencies across the UK and partner up with a number of end clients who are leading the way with in-house user experience and insight.