Capturing user feedback with Microsoft’s product reaction cards

Library cards

If I said “iPhone” to you, what are some of the words that might pop into your head? ‘Cutting-edge’ perhaps, or ‘Desirable’? What about if I said “Facebook”, or “Uber”? What words would you use to describe those products?

Words are the currency of human communication. Words are how we describe, or at least try to describe our everyday experiences and feelings towards people, places, things, or even ideas. We might describe something as ‘Useful’, or ‘Dull’ or ‘Delightful’. The words we use can be very telling, and can give great insight into those feelings and experiences.

Asking people to choose words that they would use to describe a product and to explain their choices is a great way to open up a little window into their world. It’s a great way to tease out invaluable user feedback and to capture both quantitative and qualitative data. It’s a technique that I’ve used many times in the past using Microsoft’s product reaction cards and one that I’d recommend you try. Here’s how.

How it works

Microsoft’s product reaction cards are in essence just a list of 118 words that might be used to describe a product. The list includes positive words like ‘Useful’ and ‘Engaging’, together with negative words, such as ‘Frustrating’ and ‘Ineffective’ (see the end of the article for the full list, along with a cut down list). You simply ask people to choose the words from the list that they would use to describe a product, and for each one ask them why tthey’vechosen that particular word. I like to limit the number of words someone can choose to no more than 5 as this helps to identify the key words and keeps the exercise relatively quick. However if you want to capture everything the user might choose you might increase the number of possible words, or simply not stipulate a limit.

If you will be meeting people face-to-face then you can print out the list for people to choose from (e.g. tick or circle) using this handy product reaction cards printout (PDF). There is also a UserFocus Excel sheet that allows you to randomise the list each time you print it out. This can help to eliminate any bias due to the order in which the words are shown.

If you’re carrying out user interviews remotely, or you want to capture this information using a survey then a survey tool such as SurveyGizmo, SurveyMonkey, or even Google Forms can be used.

Product reaction cards survey question

You can use a survey tool such as SurveyGizmo to find out how users describe a product

SurveyGizmo also has a particularly useful question type which allows participants to drag and drop chosen words into a right-hand list and even to order that list. Take a look at this example product reaction cards survey to see what I mean.

When to use it?

A product reaction cards exercise can be used for both new and existing products. I’ve found it to be especially useful following usability testing and during user interviews. It’s great for capturing experiences and feelings towards products and for identifying potential areas of improvement. For example, if lots of people describe a product as ‘Confusing’ or ‘Incomprehensible’ then you know that simplifying that product and it’s interface is likely to be a good area to focus on.

A product reaction card question can be included in surveys but I’d always try to ask the question as part of an interview or usability test where ever possible. The words that someone chooses are of course interesting, but it’s why someone chooses those words that is most insightful. Why is a product described as ‘Patronizing’ or ‘Compelling’? It can be hard to capture this sort of insight using a survey.

Which words to provide?

I’ve written before about the paradox of choice – the trauma of having too many options to choose from. Microsoft’s product reaction cards help reduce this trauma by cutting down the thousands of words someone might use to describe a product to just 118. However, 118 is still quite a long list, especially when you’re expecting someone to go through the entire list word by word (there is still some trauma there). For instances when you want a shorter list I’ve created a cut down list with just 64 words (see the end of the article for this reduced list). I’ve tried to eliminate a lot of the similar words so that the list still covers the same range of feelings and experiences as the full list. Of course there is nothing stopping you adding, removing or indeed changing words in the list yourself. One word of warning though – be careful which words you remove and change because users really are impossible to predict. You wouldn’t necessarily describe an analytics tool as ‘fun’ but some of your users might do!

How to analyse and present the results?

As I mentioned it’s more interesting why words are chosen, than necessarily the words themselves. Focus on this ‘why’ and try to identify common themes and groups of words. For example you’ll often find that related words, such as ‘Fun’ and ‘Entertaining’ will come up together. Word clouds can be a great way to present the words chosen – the larger the word, the more often it was chosen by users.

Example product reaction cards wordcloud

A word cloud is a great way to present the words chosen to describe a product

Another good way to present the results of a product reaction card exercise is using a simple graphical chart showing the words chosen and the number of times. Highlighting the bars for negative words can be useful as these usually indicate pain points and areas where the product is ripe for improvement.

A product reaction cards word graph

A graphical chart can be a good way to present the words chosen to describe a product

So have a go at running a product reaction cards exercise for your product. I think that you’ll be surprised at the words that your users choose.

The small print

Microsoft have kindly granted permission to use their tool for personal, academic and commercial purposes. However, because it’s copywrited you will need to include the following attribution for printouts used: “Developed by and © 2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.”


Full product reaction cards list (118 words)

Accessible Engaging Organized
Advanced Entertaining Overbearing
Annoying Enthusiastic Overwhelming
Appealing Essential Patronizing
Approachable Exceptional Personal
Attractive Exciting Poor quality
Boring Expected Powerful
Business-like Familiar Predictable
Busy Fast Professional
Calm Flexible Relevant
Clean Fragile Reliable
Clear Fresh Responsive
Collaborative Friendly Rigid
Comfortable Frustrating Satisfying
Compatible Fun Secure
Compelling Gets in the way Simplistic
Complex Hard to Use Slow
Comprehensive Helpful Sophisticated
Confident High quality Stable
Confusing Impersonal Sterile
Connected Impressive Stimulating
Consistent Incomprehensible Straight Forward
Controllable Inconsistent Stressful
Convenient Ineffective Time-consuming
Creative Innovative Time-Saving
Customizable Inspiring Too Technical
Cutting edge Integrated Trustworthy
Dated Intimidating Unapproachable
Desirable Intuitive Unattractive
Difficult Inviting Uncontrollable
Disconnected Irrelevant Unconventional
Disruptive Low Maintenance Understandable
Distracting Meaningful Undesirable
Dull Motivating Unpredictable
Easy to use Not Secure Unrefined
Effective Not Valuable Usable
Efficient Novel Useful
Effortless Old Valuable
Empowering Optimistic
Energetic Ordinary

Reduced product reaction cards list (64 words)

Advanced Engaging Personal
Annoying Entertaining Poor quality
Approachable Essential Powerful
Attractive Exceptional Predictable
Busy Exciting Professional
Clean Familiar Relevant
Collaborative Fast Reliable
Comfortable Flexible Rigid
Complex Friendly Satisfying
Comprehensive Helpful Simplistic
Confusing High quality Straight Forward
Consistent Impersonal Stressful
Convenient Inconsistent Time-consuming
Creative Ineffective Trustworthy
Cutting edge Innovative Unattractive
Dated Inspiring Unconventional
Desirable Intimidating Undesirable
Difficult Inviting Unpredictable
Dull Irrelevant Unrefined
Easy to use Organized Useful
Effective Overwhelming
Efficient Patronizing

See also