Eye Tracking for Usability

14 Mar 2017 - Miriam Boyles and Holly Allison

As an agency with a renowned specialisation in UX, we take a fresh look at eye tracking technology at a time when it could begin to re-emerge.

Eye tracking has the ability to map our instincts and intentions - non-verbally. This can be a hugely effective weapon amongst other, perhaps less glamorous tools in the UX kit.

The View from UX

Holly Allison, UX Designer at OB, said of the technology, “Eye tracking is a really useful tool when used in conjunction with other UX research techniques such as retrospective interviews and usability reviews.

While it doesn’t provide the level of insight you get from a regular usability test, where the participant narrates their experience out loud, and the researcher asks questions in the moment - it does allow you to observe more natural user behaviour, adding validity to your findings.

On a recent project which looked at the effectiveness of an online training package, we conducted regular usability tests with some participants and for others, retrospective usability tests with eye tracking. This meant we reaped the benefits of both techniques, and the retrospective tests could be used to sense check the findings from the regular usability tests, providing a more complete and accurate picture of the users and their behaviour.”

Miriam Boyles, UX Researcher at Orange Bus, agreed that, eye tracking data is not easy to interpret in isolation, emphasising the need for retrospective interviewing after the eye tracking test, “playing the recording back to the participant and asking them questions about their behaviour can generate much deeper insight than an eye tracking test alone.

Being able to present the user with a gaze plot of where they were looking can provide a really good visual prompt for further discussion about usability.

You can ask questions like, ’The big red dot here shows that you were looking for a long time at this, can you explain why your eyes were drawn to that?’, or, ‘We can see that you didn’t look at this area of the screen until 3 minutes in… why do you think that was?’  Eye tracking, retrospective interviewing and usability tests are all valuable tools that bring their own strengths to user research.”

Heat maps showing the user's visual instincts

5 Benefits of Eye Tracking Technology

Impact of Central Messaging: Grasping a site’s central value proposition in the first 10seconds is vital, inviting the viewer further into the site. Eye tracking can tell you whether the central messaging is attainable and in the correct place, or does it go missing amongst distracting imagery.  This is also useful for tools like online dashboards or business applications, showing us how much information a new user is attempting to digest in one go, and providing a very visual guide of how a thought pattern travels around the information architecture.

Real-time Observation: Eye tracking technology allows researchers to follow the subject’s real-time “gaze journey”, identifying the site’s central reference points and potential distractions which can be very instinctive and therefore difficult to vocalise.

Validating Decisions to Stakeholders: Heat maps and gaze journeys can become appealing visual artefacts, which communicate with the client in simplified terms. This can get them on board with design decisions and UX principles much more quickly.

Expressing Non-Verbal Capabilities: As an agency with a big public sector presence we often work with very diverse user groups, some of whom may find it difficult to verbalise their experience, making eye tracking a strong option.

The Changing Nature of Web Content: The tools a UXer depends upon always need to keep up with the technology they’re assessing, and eye tracking could begin to lead the course of user research much more actively, when web content conveying the conversation between business and customer becomes less uniform. Machine learning will interject into our conversations via bot interactions, whilst the role of immersive content will also start to play a bigger part, with VR and AR entering the mainstream.

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