How Eye Tracking can help in the Design Thinking process to solve real world problems

What are real-world problems? These are issues that typically have large-scale negative impacts on society, while being incredibly difficult to solve. Poverty, oppression of justice, corruption and now, even negative climate change, are some overarching real-world problems. 


Take the “sachet sari sarieconomy” in South East Asia for example. Sachets have been an integral part of the lives for many SE Asians because of the large proportion of people situated at the bottom of the sacheteconomic pyramid. Packing products in sachets allow many people who are living on daily or weekly wages to access quality products. Sachet products are also cheaper to produce and easier to export to rural areas (see “Sachets in the Philippine Context“).


However, the amount of waste generated by the sachet economy is tremendous, mainly because sachets are usually not disposed properly and they are not biodegradable, leading to environmental problems such as water pollution and wastage of natural resources. A recent study found that about 90% of seabirds have eaten plastic waste and are likely to be retained some of the plastic rubbish in their gut.

Source:, Photo Credit: © CSIRO, Britta Denise Hardesty

It seems that the “sachet economy” is an necessary evil, because it has considerable amount of benefits to both the consumers and producers. But can we make this model of consumption more sustainable? The answer is yes, and it may lie in “Design Thinking.”

Philip Brookes wrote an interesting article to implore designers to utilise “Design Thinking” to find better alternatives to sachet marketing. Although no concrete solutions were proposed, this article conveyed an important message across, that Design Thinking can lead to important benefits for consumers, businesses and the environment. Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to solving problems whereby one generates innovative solutions by exploring and understanding human cognitions and behaviours.

This is very much what the UX community is doing on a daily basis. Based on a simple to understand process model of Design Thinking outlined by Katja Thoring and Roland M. Müller, Design Thinking can be summarised to consist of a flexible sequence of 6 big steps with iteration loops:

(i) Understand: Desk Research; Understanding the Problem

(ii) Observe: Gather insights about user’s need through interview, observation etc.

(iii) Point of View: Get to together with team members to share their perspectives and synthesis insights into a micro framework

(iv) Ideation: Generate ideas for possible solutions and decide on which to develop further

(v) Prototyping: Create a prototype for the developed concept for testing

(vi) Test: Gather feedbacks from users and stakeholders about the concept

At Objective Experience, we believe that the eye tracking technology with Retrospective Think Aloud (RTA) research method is ideal for understanding, observing and testing in the Design Thinking process. Particularly for understanding what people do in their private lives, outside of a lab.  We know that people are generally unaware where much of their attention is going to and how they arrive at many of their behavioural decisions. In RTA, the eye-tracking videos are retrospectively played back to the subjects. Subjects would see their own eye movements and the decisions they made, allowing for qualitative feedbacks in a more objective and unbiased manner.

For example, Objective Experience have done a few studies on packaging designs to look at what design elements attract consumers the most and how consumers sub-consciously perceive alternative designs with the same message. In this way, eye tracking technology with RTA absolutley brings more in-depth insights to the table than traditional qualitative and quantitative research methods.  Data visualization in the form of heat maps or gaze plots also conveys results and compelling evidence easily to inform stakeholders on their decision making.

OE recently conducted an eye tracking study in a wet market, Philippines

Let’s flip traditional research on its head and instead uncover the cognitions and behaviours that consumers are unaware of themselves, so that we can look at real-world problems at multiple angles. then we can come up with feasible solutions that are also sustainable in the long run.

We need to understand behaviours that “just are” and help devise better solutions based on what people actually do. Not letting people unknowingly do whatever large corporations force upon them because those corporations make more money. Using these deep insights we can all make this world a better place.

-Ying Ki & James