This post is part of a 3-part series on using Microsoft’s Product Reaction Cards in usability testing. In Part 1 we shared the history and background of Microsoft’s development of the product reaction cards as part of a “Desirability Toolkit.” In this part, we share how we use the cards in our usability studies.

Playing the cards

Here’s how we deal the cards.

For our in-person studies, we have made laminated 3″ x 5″ cards for each of the 118 words. We laminate them so that we can reuse them, but it’s not a requirement.  You can make a new set for every study, if needed.

We spread the cards along a table so that the cards are touching but not overlapping.  When the user completes the last task, we direct them to the table and provide the following instructions:

“As you can see, this table is covered in cards that have words on them representing strongly positive, strongly negative, and neutral words.  There are 118 of them altogether, but they are in no particular order. What I want you to do now is walk down the table, picking up any words in any combination of positive, negative, or neutral, that reflect your experience of working with the product/interface today.  There’s no set number of words to pick, but to give you an idea, pick 5 or 6 words.  If you pick more, which is fine, you can tell us what your top 5 words are.

When you’re finished picking your words, bring them back to me, then tell me each word you picked and what it means to you.”

For our remote studies, we use collaborative software like GoToMeeting or Adobe Connect. When the participant finishes the last task, we pull up a table of the Microsoft words so that users can see and access it on their screen. We then ask them to read over the rows and columns of words and select the 5 or 6 words that fit their experience.  If they are comfortable using the highlighting tool in Word to make their selections, they can do this as they go along to make placeholders so that they can go back and discuss the words they picked.  Or, if they want us to manage the process, we can take over mouse control and highlight the words they tell us.

If you want to mix up the words on the screen so that participants see them differently each time, you can put the words into an Excel spreadsheet and sort them differently each time.  David Travis, a UX colleague, has developed a spreadsheet for you with the “randomize” option.

Customizing the cards

You can also customize the list of words, creating your own card deck or adding some specific words to the full deck to reflect the goals of your study.  We have done this before and then pointed out how many participants chose any of the new words on the list.

Some people go with a smaller set of words.  Microsoft began with a list of 55.  So, you can make the list smaller, if you like.

We use the whole set and we always observe that users catch on to the task quickly and really enjoy it. In a few short minutes, they have reviewed all the cards/words, they have made their selection, and they are ready to share the story of their experience with us.

But the most amazing thing is how frequently participants pick the very same word out of a deck of 118!  In addition to the number of words that are the same, we also see tremendous thematic overlap in similar words chosen by participants.

In Part 3 in this series, we’ll show you some examples of the cards selected in our studies and tell you how we analyze and present them to our clients.


Carol Barnum

Carol brings her academic background and years of teaching and research to her work with clients to deliver the best research approaches that have proven to produce practical solutions. Carol’s many publications (6 books and more than 50 articles) have made a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge in the UX field. The 2nd edition of her award-winning handbook Usability Testing Essentials is now available.