If you’ve ever wondered where exactly on your web site or software your readers or users are looking, eye tracking will tell you that. The eye-tracking equipment emits a specific wavelength of light (invisible to humans) that helps the eye tracker to follow your eyes. As the light bounces off your retinas and back to the eye-tracker’s camera, its software calculates where you were looking, and for how long.
There are different ways to display the results. You can see the data as a “video” that shows a sequence of dots, everywhere you looked. Larger dots are longer fixations. You can also see the data as a cumulative heat map, similar to this:
Here’s something interesting I learned about myself. When I participate in an eye-tracking study that studies a photograph—such as a full-page magazine ad—I look at all the same places for about the same duration as other participants in the study. I know this because the composite heat map, which combines the eye-tracking data of all the participants into one heat map, looks indistinguishable from my individual heat map. It turns out I’m normal, after all.
Eye tracking has helped researchers answer questions such as these:
- How to people typically scan a web page (in the F pattern), and what are the implications for layout?
- How much attention do people give to ads that look like dialog boxes, or to text that has fancy formatting (so may be perceived to be an ad), and what are the implications for advertisers and ad revenue?
If you’re interested in eye tracking and usability and want to read more, try Eye Tracking as Silver Bullet for Usability Evaluations? by Markus Weber.
One Reply to “Eyetracking: “I’m typical””
I am always somewhat baffled by the satisfied embrace of the F pattern that eyetracking uncovers for reading website copy … Could it be that … rather than “This is what people do on web pages,” we should walk away thinking “Gee, this content must not be doing the work we thought” … ?
Site visitors/readers give designers the benefit of the doubt. They invest in the first paragraph … but for subsequent copy they are less generous. Where’s the beef? What am I getting for all this reading? When the payoff is not there in the first few lines … (Really, how engaging is YOUR company’s copy?) … they start skimming .. which manifests as reading the first handful of words of the first line or two in subsequent paragraphs. And the F pattern emerges from the blues and green heatmap mist.
It would be interesting to see a (public) comparison of the before & after reading trace for content that had been improved both typographically and in terms of content (appropriate level,… with a gated-guided path, leading to clear actionable steps). My hunch is that the F would fade. What do you think?
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