Thursday, June 25, 2009

Official Google Blog: Eye-tracking studies: more than meets the eye

Official Google Blog: Eye-tracking studies: more than meets the eye

Imagine that you need a refresher on how to tie a tie. So, you decide to type [how to tie a tie] into the Google search box. Which of these results would you choose?Where did your eyes go first when you saw the results page? Did they go directly to the title of the first result? Did you first check the terms in boldface to see if the results really talk about tying a tie? Or maybe the images captured your attention and drew your eyes to them?You might find it difficult to answer these questions. You probably did not pay attention to where you were looking on the page and you most likely only used a few seconds to visually scan the results. Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously. To help us get some insight into this split-second decision-making process, we use eye-tracking equipment in our usability labs. This lets us see how our study participants scan the search results page, and is the next best thing to actually being able to read their minds. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.To see what the eye-tracking data we collect looks like, let's go back to the results page we got for the query [how to tie a tie]. The following video clip shows in real time how a participant in our study scanned the page. And yes, seriously — the video is in real time! That's how fast the eyes move when scanning a page. The larger the dot gets, the longer the users' eye pauses looking at that specific location.

More about this:

Eye tracking banners (Realeyes study)

by Realeyes: Eye tracking banners

Eye tracking news: iMotions tool (SMI)

from June 24, 2009
iMotions, a world leader in emotion metrics software and SensoMotoric Instruments GmbH (SMI), a world leader in eye tracking solutions have, after extensive integration and field-testing, integrated their flagship products, iMotions - Emotion Tool® and SMI’s iView X™ RED. The combined solution is now available from iMotions for the FMCG and Market Research Industries. Emotion Tool clients currently include many world-leading opinion leaders within the FMCG industry.
SMI’s award winning iView X™ RED remote eye tracker is an non-intrusive and accurate eye tracking system that allows iMotions - Emotion Tool® users to assess the impact of advertising, brand label designs, package designs and other relevant marketing material on flexible multiple-size screens ranging from 19’’ monitors to large-scale projections with high accuracy and easy-to-use setups. The iView X™ RED remote eye tracker has been continuously developed on the basis of SMI’s 18-year experience creating high-performance research and medical measurement solutions.
“The SMI iView X™ RED further broadens the scope of our solutions and expands the market opportunity. We focus on delivering our high profile clients the best solutions in the market. The outstanding quality of SMI’s technologies fits perfectly with our customer driven approach, where the client should have plug and play possibilities without any hassle. We are excited to now support the eye trackers from SMI and Tobii, the two world leading manufacturers, ”explains Peter Hartzbech, CEO of iMotions.“Our eye tracker provides a strong technological fundament for Emotion Tool® and a reliable and versatile solution for iMotions’ customers. We are proud to add iMotions, the widely respected pioneer in objective emotion measurement, to the range of high profile OEM partners of SMI and thereby expand our market coverage for the FMCG and Market Research Industries” says Eberhard Schmidt, Managing Director of SMI.About iMotions ( – Emotion Technology A/S is the developer of Emotion Tool®, the world’s first objective, non-intrusive, reliable software to measure human emotional response to visual stimuli such as packaging and print ads. The software, which also measures visual attention (eye tracking), uses data from world leading eye tracking monitors. iMotions was founded in 2005 and is headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark and have additional offices in Hyderabad, India and Boston, USA.About SMI ( Instruments GmbH (SMI) is a world leader in dedicated computer vision applications, developing and marketing eye & gaze tracking systems and OEM solutions for a wide range of applications such as market and consumer research, usability and ergonomics, HCI, psychology, neurology and ophthalmology. SMI serves customers around the globe from offices in Teltow, Germany and Boston, USA, backed by a network of trusted local partners in many countries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Using eye tracking to enhance sales and usability

Eye tracking is a tool which tracks your eye movements as you navigate through pages. It has been around for a number of years and the usefulness of this knowledge is incredible. Let me give you a good example.

In this case look how many people looked at the big red “SALE” banner in the top images compared to the green banner below. Not a single person looked at the red sale banner! That alone is interesting but now look at how this one simple banner change affected the top navigation – it’s completly altered the way people navigate the site!
Let me say that last bit again: By changing a BANNER Virgin radically altered user NAVIGATION. I bet no-one saw that coming, I know I didn’t when I first started using this knowledge. This is why testing is so important. You’re sat there tinkering with one part of the page when the change actually alters the way the user navigates your site. By understanding how eye-tracking works and looking at results you can start to understand how a visitor will journey through your site.
Combine this with the other tools and you can actually CONTROL the journey for the majority of people coming to the site.
Don’t believe me? Let’s try this:
I want you think your James Bond and you want to buy some lock picking tools from Devon Locks (who said this wouldn’t be cool!). Visit right now! Don’t look any further because if you do you will skew your results. Go now!
Ok, if you’re in the 86% of visitors I’ve targeted you pretty much did exactly this:
You skipped the header and yours eyes first saw the logo of the 2 men. You completely ignored all the header and focused straight on that 2 men logo. You still ignored the header and next looked at the big text “I need tools for”. You then looked, read and digested all 4 graphic links because you’re here to buy so that was always going to be where I focused your eyes.
If you were still in your “looking for tools” mode you probably read the H1 header text just below the 4 images but only 65% of you did. Again you probably read the sentence just below the header but you would have speed read it if you did. Now the cool part. Everywhere on the page you probably speed read EXCEPT for the first 3 bullets which you read in FULL. You may have read all 5 in full but in all honesty it was a little too much text and the top 3 are the only ones I really want people to see.
At that point you probably saw the YouTube logo but came back here. Everything below the YouTube logo is fluff to balance the page.
So hopefully you’re suitably impressed and want to know how I did it.
Headers – The only time people look at headers is when they want to know they are in the right place (logo), or they want to contact the site and are looking for a phone number of email address. Although I have text up there it is mainly for search engines. Virtually no-one looks at the header anymore for any length of time because all sites offer the same information so people associate headers with contacting and logos.
So because most of us ignore the header we start to read the page as we would a book – Top left to right. This is often called the “F” shape pattern. If you look at Devon Locks again you should be able to spot the “F” shape pattern in the design.
Content – Your eyes were first drawn to the gold 2 men because it’s pretty big, it’s unusual and because it is human shaped which we tend to respond more to images if they take on a human shape. The reason it’s there is to do exactly that; get your attention because I want your eyes exactly at the point to start your “F pattern” viewing. Immediately to the right of the men is some nice big text “I need tools for”. So now I’ve controlled where you start viewing and I’ve offered an instant solution to the question “where do I go to buy them”. I have nothing left on the page to confuse the visitor (like right hand content) so the only place to go now is down…exactly at the point I want you! The images in the four boxes are so sub-consciously whatever tool you came here for I have the 3 options straight in front of you plus a spare for any help questions you might have.
In case they need a little more help I have those bullets below. Why did you read the bullets but skimmed most other bits? Because you were always going to be 126% more likely to read the bullets because they are short, to the point and sub-consciously we don’t tend to skim bullets… 126% less likely. Even if you do read those bullets you can’t escape those big buttons ready to take you to the next level of the journey.
On this site I have a bounce rate of 14% on the home page and it goes down to 9% on other level 1’s. Now 14% is pretty much as low as I can go but I would be very surprised if many e-commerce sites could manage that kind of bounce rate. That’s what happens when the designer gets FULL control over the design!
So how do you utlise this tool? I’m afraid the answer is; not easily. Unless you work for a large company there is only one way. It isn’t as good as the real thing but it still helps: get as much online research as you possibly can. Get as many images of these results as possible.
As a poor mans eye tracking you could also get friends and family to visit sites whilst you stand beside them and let them point out what they are looking at and why. It isn’t fool-proof but it does help build a mental map in your mind of why users do certain things but more importantly it’s what they’re missing! Over time you can train your mind to view as the user would.

Eye tracking emails: Realeyes usability test

Eye tracking emails - Realeyes usability test

Eye tracking history by Wikipedia

Eye tracking history by Wikipedia
In the 1800s, studies of eye movements were made using direct observations.
In 1879 in Paris, Louis Émile Javal observed that reading does not involve a smooth sweeping of the eyes along the text, as previously assumed, but a series of short stops (called fixations) and quick saccades.[1] This observation raised important questions about reading, which were explored during the 1900s: On which words do the eyes stop? For how long? When does it regress back to already seen words?

An example of fixations and saccades over text. This is the typical pattern of eye movements during reading. The eyes never move smoothly over still text.
Edmund Huey[2] built an early eye tracker, using a sort of contact lens with a hole for the pupil. The lens was connected to an aluminum pointer that moved in response to the movements of the eye. Huey studied and quantified regressions (only a small proportion of saccades are regressions), and show that some words in a sentence are not fixated.
The first non-intrusive eye trackers were built by Guy Thomas Buswell in Chicago, using beams of light that were reflected on the eye and then recording them on film. Buswell made systematic studies into reading[3] and picture viewing[4].
In the 1950s, Alfred L. Yarbus[5] did important eye tracking research and his 1967 book is one of the most quoted eye tracking publications ever. For example he showed the task given to a subject has a very large influence on the subject's eye movements. He also wrote about the relation between fixations and interest:
"All the records (…) show conclusively that the character of the eye movements is either completely independent of or only very slightly dependent on the material of the picture and how it was made, provided that it is flat or nearly flat." [6] The cyclical pattern in the examination of pictures "is dependent not only on what is shown on the picture, but also on the problem facing the observer and the information that he hopes to gain from the picture." [7]

This study by Yarbus (1967) is often referred to as evidence on how the task given to a person influences his or her eye movements.
"Records of eye movements show that the observer's attention is usually held only by certain elements of the picture. (…) Eye movements reflect the human thought processes; so the observer's thought may be followed to some extent from records of eye movements (the thought accompanying the examination of the particular object). It is easy to determine from these records which elements attract the observer's eye (and, consequently, his thought), in what order, and how often." [8]
"The observer's attention is frequently drawn to elements which do not give important information but which, in his opinion, may do so. Often an observer will focus his attention on elements that are unusual in the particular circumstances, unfamiliar, incomprehensible, and so on." [9]
"(…) when changing its points of fixation, the observer's eye repeatedly returns to the same elements of the picture. Additional time spent on perception is not used to examine the secondary elements, but to reexamine the most important elements." [10]

This study by Hunziker (1970)[11]on eye tracking in problem solving used simple 8 mm film to track eye movements by filming the subject through a glass plate on which the visual problem was displayed. To view a slow motion movie of the eye tracking in problem solving click: for details of the study:
In the 1970s, eye tracking research expanded rapidly, particularly reading research. A good overview of the research in this period is given by Rayner.[12].
In 1980, Just and Carpenter [13] formulated the influential Strong eye-mind Hypothesis, the hypothesis that "there is no appreciable lag between what is fixated and what is processed". If this hypothesis is correct, then when a subject looks at a word or object, he or she also thinks about (process cognitively), and for exactly as long as the recorded fixation. The hypothesis is too often today taken for granted by beginning eye tracker researchers.
During the 1980s, the eye-mind hypothesis was often questioned in light of covert attention,[14] [15] the attention to something that one is not looking at, which people often do. If covert attention is common during eye tracking recordings, the resulting scan path and fixation patterns would often show not where our attention has been, but only where the eye has been looking, and so eye tracking would not indicate cognitive processing.
According to Hoffman, [16] current consensus is that visual attention is always slightly (100 to 250 ms) ahead of the eye. But as soon as attention moves to a new position, the eyes will want to follow.[17]

We still cannot infer specific cognitive processes directly from a fixation on a particular object in a scene.[18] For instance, a fixation on a face in a picture may indicate recognition, liking, dislike, puzzlement etc. Therefore eye tracking is often coupled with other methodologies, such as introspective verbal protocols.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Eye tracking studies: Realeyes eye tracking videos

Eye tracking studies: Realeyes eye tracking videos

Eye tracking video of IKEA website

Eye tracking video on User on Samsung website

Eye Tracking Video on User on the Sony Ericsson website

Eye Tracking video of a user on the American Express Website

Eye tracking study: Twitter eye tracked by an expert and a beginner

Eye tracking study: Twitter eye tracked by an expert and a beginner



Interesting: Baby Eye Tracking :)

Baby Eye Tracking Gaze Replay at ECVP 2007

Interesting: EEG brain map with Eye tracking

EEG Brain map, GSR and Eye Tracking during Gaming

Eye tracking conference at EyetrackUX 2009 - Realeyes

Eye tracking conference at EyetrackUX 2009

Eye tracking - Soldat

Eye tracking study: Soldat

Eye tracking study: 3F eyetrack - svage leasere

Eye tracking study (video)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

You click where you look

via Sendtec by Eyetools

The above graph shows an important correlation between increased link viewing and the probability of being clicked. The plot shows the percentage of valid clicks recorded from all participants as a function of percentage viewing behavior during the first presentation of a search result listing. The page elements which received the most clicks were those seen by the most users. As user viewing decreased, so did the number of clicks. The data was fit with an exponential function (solid black line) which had a correlation coefficient of 0.95. This means that decreases in viewing will have a disproportionately large negative impact on click-through.A number of other studies have explored various factors which influence a user’s decision to click including link text, description, and perceived link relevance. Our study shows that percent user viewing can be an excellent predictor of user click behavior for online searches. Our study supports the logic that users must first see a link before they can make selections based on text descriptions or relevance. There are many factors which contribute to whether or not a user decides to select a link, but all things considered, eye tracking data is a reliable and efficient way of understanding why people do and do not click.It is important to note that this data is specific to search results and should not be used in conversation about standard webpages. Eyetracking has proven to be very helpful in directing redesigns of web pages, landing pages, and emails with great increases in conversion rates, but this data presented here is specific to search result pages and should not be generalized to other pages. DetailsClicks were considered valid if the click would have produced a response from a link, image, textbox, or button element on the search results page. Clicks in whitespace areas were excluded from this analysis. We analyzed 1185 valid clicks from our study.Percentage viewing was defined as the heatmap value of each element. Each page element was assigned its highest heatmap value regardless of the location of the click. For example a link may have read:Digital Camera Reviews Find the Best Digital Cameras - News & Reviews.The link's highest heatmap value of 65% viewing may have been centered over the words "Digital Camera Reviews", but a user may have clicked off to the side on the words "News &". Although only 45% of users may have read the entire link, 65% of participants saw the page element. All clicks on this link would have been placed in the 60-79% viewing bin. Clicking off to the right is a common behavior we have observed many times when studying search result interactions.

Eye tracking analysis: WordCraft III, House of the Dead

Eye tracking analysis: House of Death

Eye tracking analysis: WordCraft III

Google Search's Golden Triangle

Study by Eyetools Research and Reports

New EyeTracking Study verifies the importance of page position and rank in both Organic and PPC search results for visibility and click through.

A joint eye tracking study conducted by search marketing firms Enquiro and Did-it and eye tracking firm Eyetools has shown that the vast majority of eye tracking activity during a search happens in a triangle at the top of the search results page indicating that the areas of maximum interest create a "golden triangle."

The first phase of the study was conducted with 50 people in Eyetools' eye tracking lab in San Francisco, California and presented panel participants with 5 distinct scenarios that would require the use of a search engine. Google was used as the search engine in all of the instances.
Key Preliminary Findings of the Study

The key location on Google for visibility as determined by the eye activity in the study is a triangle that extends from the top of the results over to the top of the first result, then down to a point on the left side at the bottom of the "above the fold" visible results. This key area was looked at by 100 percent of the participants. In the study, this was referred to as the "Golden Triangle". Generally, this area appears to include top sponsored, top organic results and Google's alternative results, including shopping, news or local suggestions.

Visibility dropped quickly with organic rankings, starting at a high of 100% for the top listing, dropping to 85% at the bottom of the "above the fold" listings, and then dropping dramatically below the fold from 50% at the top to 20% at the bottom.

Organic Ranking Visibility
(shown in a percentage of participants looking at a listing in this location)

Rank 1 – 100%
Rank 2 – 100%
Rank 3 – 100%
Rank 4 – 85%
Rank 5 – 60%
Rank 6 – 50%
Rank 7 – 50%
Rank 8 – 30%
Rank 9 – 30%
Rank 10 – 20%

Eye scan and click through behavior changes dramatically as users moved "below the fold" to the section of results that required scrolling down. At the top of the page, the amount of eye movement declined rapidly through the top 4 or 5 results, and then at the bottom of the screen, tends to become more consistent through to the end of the page.

In searches where top sponsored results are returned in addition to right sponsored ads, the top ads received much higher visibility, being seen by 80 to 100% of participants, as opposed to 10 to 50% of participants who looked at the side sponsored ads.

On side sponsored ads, the top ranked results received much more in the way of both eye activity and click through. About 50% of participants looked at the top ad, compared to only 10% who looked at ads in the 6, 7 or 8th location on the page.

Side sponsored ad visibility
(shown in percentage of participants looking at an ad in this location)

1 – 50%
2 – 40%
3 – 30%
4 – 20%
5 – 10%
6 – 10%
7 – 10%
8 – 10%

There seems to be a "F" shaped scan pattern, where the eye tends to travel vertically along the far left side of the results looking for visual cues (relevant words, brands, etc) and then scanning to the right if something caught the participant's attention.

These results come from an initial analysis of the results and were presented during sessions at the Search Engine Strategies conference in New York. While interesting, the study's main findings are still to come and will required detailed analysis of individual behavior patterns.
Did It's Kevin Lee said, "At this point, we weren't too surprised at what we've seen in the study. We suspected much of this to be true prior to conducting it. However, there is tremendous value in confirming these suspicions, especially in a way that's so visually compelling. It also proves that our methodology will hold up for phase 2 of the research. On the sponsored search side, data indicates that it is the clear branding and visibility advantage offered by gaining top positions, especially Google's top sponsored links. Unfortunately, these aren't always presented with a search. Google is a little fickle in this regard."

Enquiro's Gord Hotchkiss added, "We see a marked difference in how people say they search and what they actually do. Previous research had indicated that people were considered searchers and spent some time before choosing a link. The past few studies we've done, this one included, shows that there's a huge importance placed on where the eyeballs end up on the page.
Clicks happen pretty quickly. It just shows that search marketing is a real estate game. It's all about location, location, location."

Eyetools' CTO Greg Edwards also commented, "Eyetracking is the enabling tool that fills in the gaps to understand why people click or don't click — by quantifying what people consider before the decision to click or leave is made, companies can start to better anticipate and design to satisfy people's needs. Applying this in the search results arena enables companies to better plan their marketing communication and increase conversions."

This research is ongoing and the phase 1 results are highly encouraging. After further analysis is done, the results will be made available to the public through white papers. Further findings will be announced as they become available.

Eye tracking Realeyes - Why do you need 50 people in eye tracking studies?

Eye Tracking Report: Friend List

Eye tracking studies - presentations - Tobii

Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking

By Will Schroeder

Thanks to some recent usability studies we conducted using an eye-tracking system, we now have real evidence of where users actually look when they view a web page. It’s clear that users quickly learn to look where they expect to find content. They also quickly learn to avoid areas where they don’t see—or expect—what they’re looking for, including banner ads and parts of the page outside the central area.

Where Did Users Look?

Our client wanted to know how much attention users would pay to several areas of a prototype web page — and thus to the content of each area (see figure). With the eye tracker, we monitored how much time users looked at each area.

To determine where users looked on a prototype page, we tracked their eye movements within these areas. Users typically looked first in the center, then to the left, then to the right. When they encountered ads in the Center Area, they quickly learned to stop at the borders—and then look away.

The figure shows the design grid for the client’s index and navigation pages. We asked users to look for specific information on the site. When deciding which link to click, users typically looked first in the center area, then in the left panel, then in the right column. Users spent an average of 11 seconds on each of the pages we tested.

Our users were more likely to investigate areas outside the Center Area when they spent more time searching for the correct link, or when they visited the page for the second or third time in a task.

Scan Patterns Were Similar

All the users spent the same proportion of time looking at each area. This similarity of behavior surprised us. We think it means that they all applied similar criteria in deciding on the relative importance of the tested areas—the likelihood each area would contain the link or information they wanted.

New and experienced web users scanned essentially the same way. At first, the new user scanned pages from left to right, as if reading a book. But he quickly changed to the center–left–right sequence.

He needed only two or three page visits to learn where to find the “good stuff”—and how to avoid less-interesting (to him) material. He looked at the browser controls more than the experienced users did, but was otherwise unremarkable. We had only a single new-to-the-web user, but this is an interesting pattern to watch for.
Because these users so quickly adopted the center-left-right strategy, we believe the experienced users—who used it immediately—had learned the behavior through their earlier visits to other web sites.

This suggests that designers may not need to design pages differently for new web users, but we’d need more tests to confirm this.

Users Don’t Go to the Bottom
Users rarely looked at what we called the Study Area just above the browser’s status line. Users often found what they wanted before getting to this area. Interestingly, if they wanted to see information from this area, they scrolled to bring it higher on the screen rather than looking at the bottom.

Some users failed to find content that began within this area; they apparently assumed that anything important would begin in the center area. For these users, the “fold” was 2/3 of the way down the first screen, not at the bottom. Users may not look where they don’t expect useful material.

New Scans for Some Changes

We tested several variations of the site’s prototype page layout to see if they’d alter user behavior. When the designers changed the proportions and content of the three main areas only slightly, users kept the same scan pattern. Horizontal and vertical grid changes of 6–to–12 pixels (1/8 inch at the resolution we tested) had no apparent effect on users.
On the other hand, all users immediately detected a change that narrowed the left column about 30 pixels (1/3 inch) and used a heavier font. Most users scanned this changed area as soon as it appeared and read the content.

Users apparently will reevaluate their scan strategy when they detect a design change of this magnitude.

This argues against the design strategy of using a consistent grid on all pages—it may cause users to miss content of interest.
Users seem to notice changes somewhere between 12 and 30 pixels, but we didn’t test for this, so we don’t know how big the change must be before users notice.

What Attracted Users
Using direct observations as well as videotapes of user behavior, we found that:
Bright colors and animation attract users’ eyes. This is not a new finding, but it is interesting to actually see it happen. The gaze cursor flicks to the animation, dwells for an instant, and then returns to content.
Eye gaze often stopped at the borders around ads (the bottom of ads at the top of the page and the top of those near the bottom). To users, these lines apparently indicate content that is unimportant to their task.

The Role of Peripheral Vision

The eye tracker tells us where the users direct their central vision, the part of the visual field that can discriminate fine detail. But peripheral vision clearly plays a role. We can’t measure how much, but we must account for peripheral vision in interpreting what users see. For example:
Users rarely looked directly at the scrollbar; their gaze peaked considerably to the left of it. This shows that they don’t look at the scrollbar—even when using it. Peripheral vision obviously helped.

Ads apparently attracted users only when they related to the current task—even if the content interested users (but was irrelevant to the task). For instance, a lover of old automobiles was not attracted to an ad featuring a picture of an antique car. These observations are further evidence that peripheral vision plays a role: users somehow determined if an ad interested them before they looked directly at it.

(originally published at 1998)

Eye tracking usability studies: what are users really looking at? (2008)

By John Dirks blog February 19, 2008

To determine what usability study participants look at and take in while viewing online media, we used to watch their mouse cursors, interactions with links and controls, and body language. We also listened carefully to their think-aloud narratives and comments. These traditional testing techniques, however, could never tell us definitively what users notice and what they don’t. Eye tracking usability studies open up a new frontier.

Incorporating an eye tracker in a usability test gives us more precise information about how discoverable or attention-grabbing visual elements such as navigation structures, screen graphics, links, text, multimedia content, or promotions are to study participants.

Eye-tracking benefits

Eye tracking data can help clients improve and streamline designs. By identifying and understanding individual and common user gaze patterns and eye movements when viewing online content, we can address research questions such as:
What do users look at first on our home page (or any page, for that matter)?
Do the calls to action on this page stand out immediately?
Are users reading this content?
Are users noticing this interface feature and if so, how long does it take before they look at it?
Which of these navigation systems is the most discoverable?
What page elements are distracting users from easily accomplishing this task?
Will our new design be more effective than the current design?

Eye tracking gives us valuable insights into how users perceive online content. Data generated from eye tracking, when combined with findings from traditional usability methods, can help teams optimize layout and visual design, leading to better user experiences and higher conversion rates. Eye tracking studies can also be a cost-effective way for clients to ensure that they are getting a good design and usability ROI.

How does eye tracking work?

We use an eye tracking system developed in Sweden by Tobii Technology. The Tobii eye tracker looks like a computer monitor (see Figure 1), but sensors are built into the monitor's casing that send and receive reflections of infrared light from study participants' eyes. It is quick and easy to train or calibrate the eye tracker to work with an individual at the start of a usability session, and the technology is completely safe.

Figure 1: Eye tracker built by Tobii Technology.
When users view screen content—a web site, application, image, video, marketing piece, etc.—the eye tracking system precisely tracks and records where their gaze pauses or fixates, even if only for a 10th of a second. The system also tracks and records the eye movements or saccades between the fixation points.

A brief example

For illustrative purposes, we ran a short eye tracking test with a small sample of five users on the web site of one of our favorite charities, Oxfam America. Participants, all unfamiliar with the site, were given the task of finding a way to donate to Oxfam. Figure 2 shows a "heat map" of what our sample of users looked at during their first five seconds on the home page. The bright red-orange spots are the parts of the page users fixated on most frequently. We outlined the two pathways to donate, "What You Can Do" and "Donate now," in red.

Figure 2: An eye tracking "heat map" of the Oxfam America home page showing what test participants viewed most frequently during their first 5 seconds on the site.
Unfortunately, both pathways to donate on the home page received little initial attention. All testers found and clicked one of the links within 16 seconds, so task success was 100%, but if a primary purpose of the Oxfam America site is to collect donations, the call to action on the home page may not be clear enough. It's also possible that a more subtle approach to soliciting donations is more effective for Oxfam's audience—we don't know, and Oxfam is not one of our clients.

While heat maps show how different page elements command visual attention relative to each other and can be generated for individuals or a group of users, gaze plots and gaze replays show the visual path that individual users take on a page. The numbered circles in Figure 3 reflect what one user in our mock study fixated upon first, second, third, etc. during her first two seconds on the Oxfam site.

Figure 3: A gaze plot showing one user's initial eye movements and pauses (or fixations) across the Oxfam America home page.

By analyzing individual gaze plots, we can identify patterns about the order in which study participants view a page or application screen. These patterns can reveal mismatches between where users expect to find links, controls, or content and where they are actually placed on the page, and the patterns help us to recommend changes in the way content or navigational elements are spatially arranged or aligned. For example, a gaze pattern that involves a lot of back and forth movement may suggest a need to place certain items closer together.

One useful feature of the eye tracking system is its ability to track views or fixations in specific areas of interest (AOIs). Once defined in web page or other on-screen content, the eye tracking analysis software can then generate quantitative data such as:
the percentage of users whose eyes fixate on the AOI
their gaze duration time within the AOI
the number of fixations on other page elements prior to viewing the AOI

Figure 4 shows data from an AOI we defined around Oxfam America's "Donate now" box. This chart reveals that 3 users noticed the "Donate now" box, and it took them between 2 and 10 seconds to first fixate on it. Putting on our design hats momentarily, the brown "Donate now" box in Figure 3 looks a lot like a heading and less like a button, which may be why two of our testers did not notice it at all.

Figure 4: "Time to First Fixation" graphic based on the "Donate now" area of interest.
It can be telling how many people simply do not notice an AOI and thus are missing out on an important site function or brand message, echoing the old usability adage "If the user can't find it, the function's not there."

How does eye tracking change how we conduct usability studies?

We do not view eye tracking as a replacement of traditional usability testing methods. With some minor modifications to introduce the eye tracker and fully take advantage of what eye tracking does best, we typically run studies very much as we always have. The data generated from an eye tracker complements other usability findings to give us a more comprehensive and sometimes more quantitative view of usability problems. Eye tracking data can help us pinpoint barriers and distractions that prevent users from finding things quickly or otherwise degrade their online experiences, and it can reveal interesting viewing patterns that lead to better, actionable design recommendations that meet both user needs and business goals—and those are the things we think help our clients the most.

Thanks to Laura Barboza and Jen Amsterlaw for their research assistance.


"Eye tracking in human-computer interaction and usability research: Ready to deliver the promises," Jacob, Robert J.K. and Keith S. Karn. Published in "In the Mind's Eye: Cognitive and Applied Aspects of Eye Movement Research," Elsevier Science, Amsterdam (2003)
"A Comparison of Eye Tracking Tools in Usability Testing," DeSantis, Rich, Quan Zhou and Judith A. Ramey. Society of Technical Communication Proceedings (2005).
"Tobii Eye Tracking: See through the eyes of the user."Usability brochure available from
Oxfam America Web Site
February 19, 2008

Eye tracking - Tobii XL60 Eye tracker

Bigger Screen, Better Testing

Providing your customers with increasingly diverse testing is becoming more important than ever. In your research you need the most unobtrusive tools with the highest level of precision. The new Tobii T60XL Eye Tracker is the first ever 24” HD widescreen Eye Tracker and the best way to maximize efficiency and precision in many of your eye tracking studies.

The Tobii T60XL is the only eye tracker that allows you to easily, accurately and unobtrusively measure gaze through widescreen stimuli. It is easy to transport and set up onsite and for the first time you can conduct widescreen eye tracking using large stimuli.

The benefits of widescreen eye tracking are easily seen in research and studies related to:

  • Print ads and magazine spreads
  • Store shelves and packaging design
  • Interactive TV
  • Virtual environments
  • Preferential looking in developmental psychology and linguistics research
  • Peripheral vision research

The Tobii T60 XL will be demonstrated to the public for the first time at SRCD in Denver, April 2-4, CHI in Boston, April 4-9, Esomar Asia Pacific in Beijing, April 5-7, and MRA in Chicago, June 3-5. Welcome to our stand and be one of the first in the world to test widescreen eye tracking! Learn more about how the T60XL Eye Tracker can strengthen your research or business. Click on the link to the right to download a product leaflet or get in touch with us and we’ll give you all the details.

Realeyes (eye tracking review) video about new Tobii XL60 Eye tracker - Part 1

Realeyes (eye tracking review) video about new Tobii XL60 Eye tracker - Part 2

Realeyes (eye tracking review) video about new Tobii XL60 Eye tracker - Part 3

More videos about eyetracking here.

Eye tracking study/ 12 website tactics

Eye tracking study by Popmonsters

While this is just one eye tracking study focused on a particular type of site, I think there are instructive nuggets here for any informational website.

1. Eye tracking :: Headlines draw eyes before pictures.
This might be surprising for some people since the trend has been to add photos and graphics specifically to draw the eye. Even I have been adding more photos to my blog to spice it up a bit.
But the participants in this study looked at headlines, especially in the upper left of the page, before they looked at photos when they landed on a page. So you can’t rely on eye candy to make up for poor headlines.

2. Eye tracking :: People scan the first couple words of a headline.
Yes, long headlines can work. But this study suggests that people scan the first few words before deciding whether to continue reading. This means you should front-load your headlines with the most interesting and provocative words. It’s also an argument for getting your keywords up front in headlines.

3. Eye tracking :: People scan the left side of a list of headlines.
This is related to the previous point. When presented with a list of headlines or links, people will scan down the left side, looking at the first couple words, to find something they’re interested in. They don’t necessarily read each line beginning to end. The implication is the same as before. Get your most mind catching words up front.

4. Eye tracking :: Your headline must grab attention in less than 1 second. Online readers are grazers. They move fast and nibble. If you want to hook them into spending time reading about something, you have to catch their attention very, very fast. No nonsense. No meandering copy. No “throat clearing” to fill space. You have to get to the point instantly.

5. Eye tracking :: Smaller type promotes closer reading. This makes sense because smaller type is harder to read. So, to read it, you have to really focus. Larger type promotes scanning rather than reading. Be careful with this one. No one is suggesting you shrink your web type to make it barely legible. I think the takeaway is to avoid making your type too big if you want close reading and avoid making it too small if you want to communicate rapidly.

6. Eye tracking :: Navigation at the top of the page works best. I find this interesting from a design point of view since many sites now use side navigation. I take this one with grain of salt, since the study also shows that side navigation can work fine. The point may be that anything at the top of a page will be seen immediately. And since top navigation must be simple because of space limits, top navigation is probably much simpler to use.

7. Eye tracking :: Short paragraphs encourage reading. No surprise here. Even in print this is true. Big blocks of type look imposing and difficult, like reading a Faulkner novel where a paragraph goes on seemingly forever. In online writing as in most ad writing, you have to forget normal paragraph development. Breaks should be logical, but they’re organized into a flow of ideas rather than distinct paragraphs.

8. Eye tracking :: Introductory paragraphs enjoy high readership. Just to be clear, an intro paragraph is a content summary that appears after the headline and before the main text. It’s common in some news writing. I’ve also used it in print ads which are designed in the form of an article, often called an “advertorial.” The downside is that while intros get read, this study says they don’t affect readership of the main text. Maybe they help improve comprehension. The study doesn’t say.

9. Eye tracking :: Ad placement in the top and left positions works best.
For anyone familiar with “heat maps,” this make sense. The eye tends to start in the upper left of a page. So an ad, or anything else, in that area will be noticed. This is another one you have to be wary of. Ad blindness tends to happen when people get used to seeing ads in a particular place. So even the prime upper left area won’t work so well if you always put ads there.

10. Eye tracking :: People notice ads placed close to popular content. Obviously. This mimics the well-known idea in the offline world where ads are placed anywhere eyeballs point. This is why ads right over a urinal work. Men look straight ahead, usually at a blank wall 12 inches from their face when standing at a urinal, so any reading material there will get read.

11. Eye tracking :: People read text ads more than graphic ads. Not everyone will agree with this one. But it makes sense if you consider that information is usually in the form of text. So people looking for information are looking for text, not pictures. However, graphics can be useful for conveying information that is difficult to communicate in pure text, such as how something looks, mathematical information, before and after comparisons, etc. Which leads us to the last tactic.

12. Eye tracking :: Multimedia works better than text for unfamiliar or conceptual information. Reading relies on people having some understanding of the subject. The more familiar they are with the subject, the faster and easier reading is.

If you’re trying to describe a process, for example, a video or illustration conveys this information better than text.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Eyetracking research and forms design

Formulate: Eye tracking research and forms design

In recent years, a number of form design related eye tracking studies seem to have captured popular attention amongst the web community. These include a study by Matteo Penzo on label placement and another more recent study.

Not only have these studies been widely circulated on the Internet but, in the case of Penzo's eye tracking study, they have formed the basis of some parts of Luke Wroblewski's popular book “Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks”.

We think it's great that the unique design challenge forms represent is getting more attention from the web and user experience community. However, we are a little unsettled about the increasing use of these articles as the basis for best practice. Our concern stems from what we see as fairly major flaws in the methodology that these and similar eye tracking research studies contain.

The two methodological problems lie behind much past forms-related eye tracking research
In many cases, eye tracking studies that have examined different options for the design of forms have suffered from two main shortcomings: insufficient recognition that seeing is not equivalent to attention; and drawing inferences from an inadequate sample. Seeing does not equate to attention. It is one thing to know that someone has directed their gaze in a particular place. It is another thing entirely to know what they were attending to—or thinking—at that time.
Zimmerman estimates that at any one time, the eyes take in 10,000,000 bits per second of information, yet we pay conscious attention to only 40 bits per second¹. That's 40 bits out of 10 million, or attention going to only 0.0004% of what we see.

If you're not convinced about this phenomenon, try to remember what colour shirt the person you share an office with was wearing yesterday, or even the colour of their eyes. You probably look at both things many times in a working day, but you don't necessarily attend to them.
The implications for eye tracking research is that such studies give us only part of the picture of what's going on when someone interacts with a form. In order to truly make informed conclusions, we need to supplement this picture with information from other sources. This might include error and task analysis of the completed forms and/or probing the participant, using protocols such as concurrent “think aloud” or retrospective discussion.

An adequate sample is a prerequisite for drawing inferences Our second and equally significant concern relates to the design of the samples used to conduct these many eyetracking studies.
As an example, the cxPartners' study involved only 8 participants: 6 female and 2 male, all of which were in their 20s or 30s and reasonably web savvy. Without considering any other aspects of the study's design, this is enough to make a statistician break out into a cold sweat.
The statistician's reaction is because the sample used by cxPartners is highly likely to have been skewed. By skewed we mean that the sample probably doesn't accurately reflect the greater web-form-filling population. At the very least, it would have been preferable to have included both younger and older participants, not to mention more males.

Furthermore, the sample size—8 people—is so small that it is likely to be highly influenced by the nature of the particular 8 participants that were involved. Pick a different 8 people and there is a good chance that the findings from the research would be very different.

This is why 30 is the recommended minimum sample size for any study from which inferences for a general population are to be drawn². While there's a lot more to designing a good sample than having a minimum of 30 participants, this will at least get you into the space where you might be able to calculate statistical significance.

Statistical significance is about knowing which differences are likely to be due to just the particular sample that was selected as opposed to reflecting a true difference in the underlying population. With a small sample size, we cannot calculate statistical significance and thus have no real indication of the reliability of our findings. (For more on statistical significance and user research, see Caroline Jarrett's recent article on Usability News titled "Statistically significant usability testing".)

Being transparent about sample design is important One thing cxPartners did well in their article is describe the sample that formed the basis of their research. Providing this information empowers the reader to make their own judgement about how to use the findings presented therein.

Conversely, Matteo Penzo's article doesn't give many specifics about the design of his sample. He says that the sample included both expert users—primarily designers and programmers, but also some usability experts—and novice users. But we are not given any more detail nor told how many participants there were. One hopes, given the immense popularity of his article, that Penzo's sample was both representative and large.
Better not to report at all?

To be fair to the team at cxPartners, their eyetracking forms article did begin with note about the potentially invalidity of the study. Isn't it enough that readers were duly warned? Unfortunately, we think not.

It is our impression that web designers and developers are hungry for guidelines based on research. This hunger is a great thing: it means we all want to know more and create the best sites we can. However, it also means that readers are likely to latch on to the findings of a study and pay little regard to the caveats regarding methodology that are placed around it. This is just human nature. We can work with a guideline; we need a guideline. The perhaps-flimsy basis behind the guideline is just all too often seen as the spoil-sport at the party and pushed to one side.

So what should researchers do with findings based on an inadequate sample? Perhaps controversially, we suggest that rather than report findings with caveats around them, it may be better to not report such findings at all. That way widespread inappropriate use can be prevented.

This is a hard position for many people to accept. Surely it is better to have some findings than nofindings?

The problem is that the “some” findings may be pointing in completely the wrong direction. If we have no data, there's nothing to suggest one course of action is better than another. But if we have bad data, it can lead us astray, all the while with a false sense of confidence in our decision because, after all, it is based on research findings.
We raise these issues to help progress the field
We did not write this article to embarrass or shame anyone, nor to discourage people from doing forms research. We know from direct experience how unbelievably hard it is to design a sound research study.

Moreover, we think both Matteo Penzo and cxPartners should be congratulated for actually taking the (not insignificant) time and effort to actually do some research and share their findings with the community. A lot of people make demands of such individuals—“Why didn't you do X?”, “What would have happened if you had tested Y?” etc—but very few people actually take up the gauntlet and run such studies themselves.

Having said that, what we would like to see in the future is for the web community to have a higher awareness of what makes for quality research, and approach published studies with a more critical eye. Formulate has and will be on the receiving end of such critique—see, for example, the comments to our recent research article on A List Apart—but as long as it is informed and considered, we believe this can only help to advance the field.

In the end we hope the web industry will recognise the importance of the sort of rigour that has been commonplace for decades in other fields such as psychology and social research. Not only will this lead to better design decisions, but we believe it will help the industry mature, in turn generating respect for the web as a serious vehicle for communication, transaction and information.

1 Zimmerman, M. (1989) "The Nervous System in the Context of Information Theory". In Zimmerman, M. Schmidt, R. F. & Thews, G. (eds) Human physiology pp. 166-173.
2 This minimum of 30 can be found in almost any statistics or sampling textbook, e.g. Howell, D.C. (1982) Statistical Methods for Psychology p. 149. The number comes from the fact that given a large population, the greater the sample size, the closer the distribution of means from samples of that size comes to approximating the normal distribution. This in turn makes various sample estimates—including statistical significance—valid (provided some other conditions also hold, but we won't go into that here!).

Eye-tracking studies: more than meets the eye

Official Google blog: Eye-tracking studies: more than meets the eye
Imagine that you need a refresher on how to tie a tie. So, you decide to type [how to tie a tie] into the Google search box. Which of these results would you choose?Where did your eyes go first when you saw the results page? Did they go directly to the title of the first result? Did you first check the terms in boldface to see if the results really talk about tying a tie? Or maybe the images captured your attention and drew your eyes to them?You might find it difficult to answer these questions. You probably did not pay attention to where you were looking on the page and you most likely only used a few seconds to visually scan the results. Our User Experience (eye tracking) Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously. To help us get some insight into this split-second decision-making process, we use eye-tracking equipment in our usability labs. This lets us see how our study participants scan the search results page, and is the next best thing to actually being able to read their minds. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.To see what the eye-tracking data we collect looks like, let's go back to the results page we got for the query [how to tie a tie]. The following video clip shows in real time how a participant in our study scanned the page. And yes, seriously — the video is in real time! That's how fast the eyes move when scanning a page. The larger the dot gets, the longer the users' eye pauses looking at that specific location.Based on eye-tracking studies, we know that people tend to scan the search results in order. They start from the first result and continue down the list until they find a result they consider helpful and click it — or until they decide to refine their query. The heatmap below shows the activity of 34 usability study participants scanning a typical Google results page. The darker the pattern, the more time they spent looking at that part of the page. This pattern suggests that the order in which Google returned the results was successful; most users found what they were looking for among the first two results and they never needed to go further down the page.When designing the user interface for Universal Search, the team wanted to incorporate thumbnail images to better represent certain kinds of results. For example, in the [how to tie a tie] example above, we have added thumbnails for Image and Video results.
However, we were concerned that the thumbnail images might be distracting and disrupt the well-established order of result evaluation.We ran a series of eye-tracking studies where we compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Our studies showed that the thumbnails did not strongly affect the order of scanning the results and seemed to make it easier for the participants to find the result they wanted.
For the Universal Search team, this was a successful outcome. It showed that we had managed to design a subtle user interface that gives people helpful information without getting in the way of their primary task: finding relevant information.In addition to search research, we also use eye-tracking to study the usability of other products, such as Google News and Image Search.
For these products, eye-tracking helps us answer questions, such as "Is the 'Top Stories' link discoverable on the left of the Google News page?" or "How do the users typically scan the image results — in rows, in columns or in some other way?"Eye-tracking gives us valuable information about our users' focus of attention — information that would be very hard to come by any other way and that we can use to improve the design of our products. However, in our ongoing quest to make our products more useful, usable, and enjoyable, we always complement our eye-tracking studies with other methods, such as interviews, field studies and live experiments.

Results of Eye Tracking Study: Google Versus Bing

Bill Hartzer: User Centric Releases Results of Eye Tracking Study: Google Versus Bing

User Centric has released the results of an eye tracking study that compares data between Google and the new Microsoft search engine Bing. What is interesting to note is that sponsored links are attracting more attention than they are on Google. Google users appear to be more aware of the sponsored links.

User Centric used eye tracking technology to capture 21 participants’ eye movements as they completed two informational and two transactional search tasks, each in and

The two search phrases that were used during this eye tracking study:Learn about eating healthyBook a last minute vacation

User Centric used eye tracking technology to capture 21 participants’ eye movements as they completed two informational (e.g., “Learn about eating healthy”) and two transactional (e.g., “Book a last minute vacation”) search tasks in each engine.

According to User Centric, “Preliminary findings revealed comparable amount of visual attention on organic search results and top sponsored links across both search engines. Sponsored links on the right, however, attracted more attention on Bing than they did on Google. On average, across all four tasks, 42% of participants looked at Bing’s sponsored links on the right; by contrast, only 25% of participants looked at Google’s right rail links.”

When it came to the amount of attention paid to the organic search results, Bing and Google did not differ: users spent an average of seven seconds looking at the organic search results. They were both about the same amount of time spent.

During a search, 90 percent of users tested looked at the “sponsored links”. User Centric also reports that during “transactional searches” (searches that involved someone buying something or searches related to completing a transaction), “participants would spend more time looking at the sponsored results on top (~2.5 seconds) than they did on informational searches (~1.5 seconds).” But, on the search engine, participants of the study spent more time looking at the paid links (sponsored links). About 42 percent paid more attention to the sponsored results on Bing. About 25 percent on Google.

Eye-tracking 2.0: it's about users, not science

Mihkel Jäätma is co-founder of eye-tracking company Realeyes

Eye-tracking has been used in web design for many years. However, the widespread preconception is that it takes PhD skilled technicians - plus long consulting hours - to make any sense or use of people’s eye gaze data.

The value from eye-tracking has been directly related to consultancy skills, but shouldn’t it be more about real users?
Eye-tracking has been used mainly as a qualitative tool because of technical reasons. The hardware was difficult to operate and only few consulting houses had the access and capability to run the tests in their lab conditions. Operating labs and recruiting people from consumer panels is expensive and forced consultancies to stick with small sample sizes to fit into client’s budgets. Small sample sizes have held back the wider acceptance of eye-tracking analysis in web design. In 'Eye-tracking 2.0' devices will be taken to users, not users to devices. This fundamentally changes the speed and sample size of users who can be eye-tracked for analysis purposes.
Quantitative eye-tracking speaks the voice of the customer, not of the consultant. It takes to test about 50 people (why 50? about eye tracking) to achieve reliability in the visual analysis for any piece of media. Statistical significance of this sample size allows conveying real user design preferences in neutral and objective manner. Visual metrics and animations of user interaction gain their own stand-alone value as models of real user behavior on designers and marketers desktops. Consultant expertise and qualitative insights are extremely valuable, quantitative eye-tracking complements them with sound numbers. Technological progress has made data collection procedures and packaging 'a standard issue'. Professionals can now spend their time on more demanding and value-adding activities than running user tests or analyzing gigabytes of eye-tracking data.
Reliable quantitative visual analysis is now available as a given tool and consultants can focus more on fundamentals. Much like fund managers do when using outsourced data feeds, but making their own investment decisions.
Eye-tracking was often oversold in the past, creating well-deserved skepticism towards the technology. The 'before-and-after' case studies of websites being redesigned based on only heatmaps of 10 people rightly upset many industry professionals.
As eye-tracking hardware improves and operational models for analysis develop there will be less ‘magic’ and more of the real stuff: identifying user preferences and employing that knowledge to achieve better web design.