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.