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3 Ways to Collect Data with 5-second Blink Tests

Five Second Blink TestIn his book called Blink, Malcolm Gladwell introduces the idea that your customer’s impressions of your product are fixed within a matter of seconds.  The 5-second tests give you a way to check this out.  In this method, you show a customer a page for 5 seconds, and then you take it away.  This test allows you to determine what visual elements are most prominent within the blink of an eye.  Plus, you see how your customers get initially oriented and re-oriented after an interruption.  It is a powerful, low-cost UX method.

I recommend using, which is a low-cost tool for performing 5-second blink tests. The tool is very easy to use and low cost.  You can collect data in an almost real-time fashion.  Customers have fun using this tool, too.

Basic Procedure for 5-second Blink Test

  1. Determine the type of 5-second blink test you want to perform.
  2. Create your test.  Manually, you show a page for five seconds, and then take it away.
    NOTE:  If you use, the site takes your page away automatically.
  3. Customers take your test and return in the results.
  4. Analyze the results and look for patterns.

Three Ways to Conduct 5-second Blink Tests

I have seen 5-second tests conducted in three different ways: free-listing, drawing, and question-answer.  A review of each technique follows.

Free-Listing Technique

In the free-listing technique, your customers writes down everything they can remember into a list after seeing your page for 5-seconds.  To get the most from this approach, use these tips:

  • Provide two pens and paper.  The second pen is available, if the first one does not work.
  • Use one idea per line.  Don’t bother with bullets or numbers in their list.
  • No time limit. Tell customers to write as long as they want.
  • Tell them to work alone.  You want each person’s impressions, not a group of people.
Most sessions will last about 2-3 minutes using this technique.

Drawing Technique

In this approach, customers draw what they remember.  Yes, they can still draw the words, like tabs and button labels.  This approach works well for sites that use alot of visuals, such as dashboards, Gantt Charts, and so on.  To get the most from the drawing technique, use these tips:

  • Provide two pens and paper.  The second pen is available, if the first one does not work.
  • Instruct users to roughly sketch.  If they get too detailed, they forget other they saw.
  • No colored markers.  People spend time picking out the right color and forget what they are drawing.
  • No time limit. Tell customers to draw as long as they want.

Drawing takes a little more time.  Most sessions will last about 5-6 minutes using this technique.

Question & Answer Technique

In this approach, you a set of questions for customers answer, after showing them a page for five seconds.  For example, you might ask these questions: What does this site convey? What is the purpose of this page?  Who is the intended audience?  To get the most from this approach, follow these tips:

  • Ask 3-4 questions only.  People forget quickly.  You want their initial responses.
  • Split questions to get more data.  If you want to ask 10 questions, split them up.  The tests are quick.
  • Provide additional paper.  Some people will write multiple paragraphs.  Be prepared for writers.
  • No time limit. Tell customers to write as much, and as long, as they want.
Answering questions varies with each participant.  Most sessions will last about 4-6 minutes using this technique.

Some Final Thoughts

With the proper planning, you can conduct all three methods with in about one hour.  I have used all three methods at lunch to do some initial concept testing for kiosk, mobile, touch, and web applications.  Our findings validated some of our initial concepts.  Plus, we gathered more insights into how people got initially oriented with the designs.

In other cases, I have performed a 5-second blink test at the start of a usability test.  After performing the 5-second blink test, my customers went through a set of scenarios determined by the project team.  The insights from the 5-second blink test let us know about our customer’s initial impressions before they began to work with the product.



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2 Responses

    1. Hi Jack — I have used this method quite a bit lately. It is a great technique for home pages, landing pages, and content pages. It gives you a great idea of what content is sticky with customers, especially when they get oriented with a page (or re-oriented after a distraction or interruption).

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