Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Chair

Tahira N. Reid

Committee Member 1

Karthik Ramani

Committee Member 2

Sherylyn Briller

Committee Member 3

Morgan M. Hynes


The goal of this research is to help in creation of better user experience (UX) by enabling engineers and designers to get a deeper understanding of the users by focusing on the users’ needs, emotions, experiences and social issues. The main research question that guides this work is: How can engineers and designers better understand their users to create designs that aim at enhancing user experiences? Understanding the users and UX has many facets and dimensions. The users make decisions based on emotions and experiences, which also determine the value they associate with a design. Experiences are related to the fulfillment of needs, and needs and ‘affect’ are interrelated. This research mainly focuses on better understanding two facets of the user: (1)their needs and (2)their feedback by measuring ‘affect’.

Compassionate Design Thinking and Socially Conscious Design help the engineers and designers to understand user needs, related to each individual and also related to the society on a larger scale. Compassionate design thinking addresses niche needs and involves a way of thinking where engineers and designers pay special attention to the users’ sense of dignity, empowerment and sense of security. Twelve case studies including products and services were iteratively analyzed using interpretive content analysis to develop the framework of compassionate design thinking: dignity, empowerment and sense of security. In addition to focusing on niche user needs, needs related to social issues also influence experiences. Socially conscious design focuses on identifying key ideas at the intersection of human social issues and design needs and including these ideas in design education of future engineers. Fifteen experts participated in a study using the Delphi technique to identify these key ideas and ways of teaching them. The study revealed that teaching the concepts of ‘social responsibility’, ‘seeing the world from different perspectives’ and ‘engaging with multiple stakeholders’ to the students is very important. The experts participated in interviews after the Delphi study and addressed the aforementioned ideas from their unique vantage points based on their backgrounds and experiences.

While some needs can be assessed directly, ‘feedback’ is another way of indirectly assessing needs, as feedback may indicate if a need is fulfilled or not. There are many ways of gathering user feedback, like surveys and interviews. This research work explores the use of psychophysiological and behavioral measures in better understanding non-verbal and unarticulated feedback from the users. This also helps us to better understand the ‘affect’ and emotions of the users. Exploratory studies were conducted to study the use of psychophysiological and behavioral measures like eye tracking, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), facial expression recognition and Electroencephalography (EEG) in assessing ‘affect’. Eye tracking yielded the most conclusive results of all the measures that were used. The GSR and facial expression data did not reveal any strong conclusive results due to a weak elicitation of emotional response from the users. This could be due to the simple representation of the stimuli and low risk involved in the study. A more real experience is likely to generate a stronger reaction. Testing these measures with stimuli of different fidelity (like virtual reality) will help in assessing the effectiveness of psychophysiological and behavioral measures to understand user feedback.

Designing elegant solutions that enhance user experiences is the result of a holistic understanding of the user and, compassionate design thinking, socially conscious design and use of psychophysiological and behavioral measures help the engineers and designers to take another step to better understand the user.