Company aims to get inside our heads to understand behaviour

A SPECIALIST market research company from Yorkshire is helping to shed light on the mysterious workings of the human mind.

SimpleUsability, based in Leeds, offers insights into how people make decisions, which can prove invaluable to retailers.

The company is a market leader in eye-tracking, which helps understand the way that consumers respond to websites and other visual cues. In a new development, it has integrated this equipment with a brainwave monitor to track an individual's emotional response.

Guy Redwood, founding director, said: "Our whole business is based around understanding that up to 95 per cent of your behaviour is automatic. It is from the subconscious. You don't think about things; you just do stuff."

The 30,000 Swedish-made eye-tracking equipment follows the movement of an eye around the computer screen. This information is played back to the subject, who then describes the thought process that he or she went through.

Mr Redwood said: "This verbalisation enables you to recall your subconscious thoughts. You can explain that automatic behaviour. The eye-tracking reply acts as the visual cue. It's like football commentary."

SimpleUsability's brainwave monitor, which cost 1,000, has the appearance of a headset and provides an emotion response analysis to consumer situations.

Mr Redwood said: "It takes us to the next level of getting inside heads and understanding what really drives behaviour.

"So far we have been using the headset with our eye-tracking systems to monitor reaction to film trailers, packaging and websites but are looking forward to taking it in store. This will give our clients even greater insight into why people make the decisions they do and enabling key decisions for store layouts, packaging designs and fixtures. This can be done in either a simulated seting or in store."

Traditional brainwave monitoring equipment could have come from the set of a 1950s science fiction film, with awkward-fitting shower caps and lots of wires. The new equipment is much less obtrusive, said Mr Redwood, and makes the user feel more comfortable and less self conscious.

Lowri Davies, who joined Simple Usability in October, has a background in neuropsychological and biometric market research.

She said: "Previously headsets have been full of wires and quite scary looking, but our cutting edge technology has removed all of this and replaced it with a lightweight, wireless and easy to use headset and once on you just forget about it."

The headset allows measurement of emotions such as frustration, engagement and excitement.

Mr Redwood said: "Having the ability to map subconscious and emotional responses onto everyday products will allow companies to assess whether a particular product, service or advertising is hitting customers where it matters most, in their emotional brain. This is especially important once you acknowledge that 95 per cent of buyer decisions occur in the subconscious."

He added: "Eye-tracking gives you the detail of exactly what's going on. The emotional information on top of that takes it to another level. It would be hard to use the emotional stuff without the eye tracking. The bottom line is it improves sales."

At 38, Mr Redwood is a veteran of the digital industry, working in the sector for the last 15 years. He founded SimpleUsability at York Science Park in 2001, but moved the business to Leeds three years ago, complaining that few potential customers were prepared to travel to York.

The company set out by offering usability tests to website owners, offering an insight into how easy or difficult their sites were from a consumer perspective.

SimpleUsability started using eye-tracking equipment in 2005. It now offers training to other companies offering eye tracking and speaks with equipment manufacturers about technology specifications. It has a turnover of 250,000 and six employees.

Mr Redwood said: "We are a customer journey-focused business. We look at human behaviour and find what people get up to fascinating."

The company used its eye-tracking equipment on 500 people last year. It uses subjects just once because "they learn a lot about themselves" during the process, said Mr Redwood.

Clients include Asda, Republic, Britvic, Hoseasons, Welcome to Yorkshire, Freemans, Irwin Mitchell, Anglian Home Improvements and several local authorities.