What does eye tracking have to do with Web usability?

Tuesday 30 August 2011 - Filed under Usability News

Eye Tracking technology has been around for a number of years now. Most usability experts agree that this method of testing is invaluable when used to supplement other research and usability tests.

It has found uses with usability experts and academics looking to conduct research and of course in the commercial environment where organisations use it to try and establish patterns and trends in the user experience.

As has been discussed in other usability blogs and articles, there isn’t a one single method  for Usability Testing that is proven to eliminate all your usability problems, it never been more true than with the eye-tracking methodology which has been the focus point into much research  into correlation between eye-tracking metrics and exposing typical web usability problems. As a result of this research a proven pattern is still yet too proven, but it’s an impressive technology never the less.

The usability experts who practice with this technology have had to make some very subjective conclusions about their eye – tracking data. However since it’s inception more research is currently being undertake to try and establish those patterns.

It’s a technology that has it’s origins in cognitive psychology. So what does it have to do with web usability?

The technology which is capable of scanning and following the movements of your retina in relation to the computer screen is intended to establish a pattern between not just one eye pattern, an A to B on the screen if you like, but a sequence of patterns confirming correlations between what stands out most on the screen, where the user is first likely to click, what happens when the user experiences a problem and which parts of the site are least likely to attract attention.

It sounds futuristic because this user testing technology is. It’s just not quite as polished as we would like it. A working progress.

Testing Users offers eye – tracking services as part of the Testing Users experience. I believe it does greatly enhance the quantity of our UX reports as session images & heat maps provide valuable emphasis to any points that may have already been raised and also ones that may be revealed through the technology itself.

It can raise some important issues like for example a significant proportion of the testing users panel might report that a certain area of the site might be very user friendly and encourage interest or on the other hand this area might not as clear as the user would have liked and encourage confusion. The eye-tracking images may be able to tell you how long the user spent fixated on that area.

There are numerous other advantages apart being able to confirm where the user’s attention lies. Presented in graphic form as part of the Testing Users experience it can help answer important questions and determine important questions regarding AOI’S (Areas of interest), an important metric in determining how effective and efficient the arrangement of the user interface is.

I suppose the best way to find out how relevant eye – tracking is to web usability is to compare it to traditional user testing methods.

There are many different eye – tracking metrics with many different studies done into them. The problem with the research is that has to date only really investigated the relationship between eye-tracking and the overall usability of the web interface. Recent studies including a recent study at the City of London University have examined the eye – tracking technology with a range of specific usability problems and usability issues. This study findings confirmed a ‘more noticeable’ and ‘more important’ correlation between AOI’s and the different possible usability problems, but conceded that the findings were far from conclusive and that the correlation between eye-tracking and usability was hindered simply due to the complexity of Human Behaviour manifested by the the different strategies they used to deal with the problems they experienced. Other outside factors included ‘serious technical problems’ in the setting up of the eye-tracking software itself as it is notoriously hard to install and operate.

Nether the less though the report has paved the way for more research into just how relevant eye tracking technology is to web usability by identifying the need to further evaluate and validate the strengths of the correlations.

I still believe that if your budget allows this method can prove a great visual aid to the Testing User experience.

2011-08-30  »  Sam

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