Morphological Web UX Research: psychologically optimise surfing processes

Dirk Ziems

For digital consumers, surfing websites and online stores has become an everyday occupation. Because they are always on, current web design styles have a constant and powerful impact on consumers. A website or online store accordingly pleases by making skilful use of the current visual and design language. It is naturally also essential to observe the basics of user ergonomics. Web offers which are difficult to reach or use are indefensible in the ruthless competition of online selling.

However, the user experience (UX) is not determined solely by usability and aesthetically appropriate design. The appeal of websites and online stores depends overall on their user-centred design. This includes other factors, such as the appropriate motivational address and "capturing” surfers in the right surfing mood.

The holistic approach of morphological UX research

The morphological research approach to the web user experience targets exactly these holistic factors.

In the first stage we explore the motivations and intentions in everyday surfing situations which the website or online store is seeking to address. The key elements can be very different, depending on the topic and concrete everyday relevance. Sometimes surfers are looking for inspiration and escape from the here and now into idyllic worlds and ideal daydreams. The online shopper might be using her cellphone in a crowded commuter train, indulging in visual snacking on the inspirational pages of the Zalando or Zara online store. These pages are particularly good at visualising the individual stages of the buying route – inspiration, channelling, decision – in their user guidance.

Another time, online shoppers may be looking for the website or online store to give them a feeling of maximum rationality and control while actually looking eagerly for a much-desired item (e.g. a new widescreen tv). Check and price portals do a very good job at this with their sober blue and grey colour scheme and selection elements (filters and sliders).

The rules that websites and online stores follow in capturing user desires and motivations and creating the desired surfing mood are identified by morphological UX research through parallel surf interviews. In this setting, respondents are asked to surf freely while thinking aloud. Moderation here is a form of participatory observation which follows the surfing process very closely, asking at every point what the surfer is finding visually attractive, what holds them up, where they want to go on etc.

To give the surf interview more structure, respondents are also given specific tasks, e.g. looking for an evening dress for a formal summer occasion, or choosing a used car at an online market.


Flanking use of eye tracking and web interviews

Reconstructing the core pattern of movement through websites and online stores can be done through a reasonable number of extended individual depth interviews.

Eye tracking has proved its value in these interviews, as documenting in even greater detail the subconscious surfing process and the visual grammar of website language. The standard procedure for morphological surf interviews is varied for this. The first fifteen minutes are devoted to an eye tracking session in which the fixation points during surfing are recorded in an eye tracking video. In the subsequent depth interview the video is used as a starting point for further exploration of the conscious and subconscious drivers in surfing.

A further supplementary procedure in morphological UX research is the Webcam Interview in which the interviewer follows respondents’ surfing online live through screen sharing. Its flexibility and cost advantages mean that this procedure can be used for a larger number of short interviews, making the group of customers included broader and more representative.


Advantages of morphological UX research at a glance

+ Holistic inclusion of conscious and subconscious surfing motivations
+ Deep psychological understanding of the success or failure of website and online store impact
+ Combination of different tools: F2F depth interviews, eye tracking, webcam interview
+ Covers web design on PC, tablet and smartphone


Concrete output of morphological UX research

  • Profiles of user and buyer types and their requirements for the UX
  • Deep understanding of online buying moods and their specific requirements for web design
  • Reconstruction of appropriate surfing dramaturgy and detailed recommendations for optimising the appropriate website architecture (site map level)
  • Recommendations for overall impact, style, colour scheme, image language, photo concept and video use
  • Detailed recommendations for various design elements in websites and online stores

Further posts on Qual Online Tools

 Qual Online Toolbox by concept m

Morphological market research for digital daily life

Qual Online Tools (1):
Social Media Scan and Qual Social Listening:
tracking subconscious market trends

Qual Online Tools (2):
Online Diary and Qual Insight Community:
ethnographic insight research with digital media

Qual Online Tools (3):
Webcam Interview and Online Focus Group:
a digital renewal for classic depth exploration


Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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