This week I’ve been visiting local usability labs that have eye tracking capabilities as we will soon be offering this added value service to our clients.
What is eye tracking?
Eye tracking uses non-intrusive technology to track where the user’s eyes are looking. It is often used for usability testing websites, software, mobiles, adverts, even shopping malls (there’s a lot of psychology that goes into where to place that can of Heinz!).
Testing involves the user using a website to perform tasks and is often accompanied by a satisfaction questionnaire. Afterwards, the users gaze path and fixations (basically what they looked at and for how long) can be watched and analysed. All the users data can also be combined into a heatmap so you can see which areas of each page attracted the most attention from users – did they even look at the big advert in the middle of your homepage?
Is it worth the extra time, effort and cost?
There’s a lot of disagreement amongst professionals as to whether eye tracking is worth the extra time and effort required to analyse the data and whether it really brings more value to usability testing. From speaking to those professionals that do use it, it is clear that businesses and in particular marketing departments are more persuaded and engaged by this testing method. Perhaps this is because marketing departments are more concerned about users noticing their promotions and advertising than finding out the hows and whys of users that visit their site.
I’m of the opinion that some websites are better suited to standard usability testing methods, some are better suited to eye tracking and others may benefit most from a mixture of both.
Video showing user’s scanpath
(the bigger the circle, the longer the user is looking at that point)
Video showing the use of heatmaps
Eye tracking is most useful when you want to test:
- Page elements – To assess how much people notice ui elements onscreen, such as logos, promotions, calls-to-action, etc.
- Navigation – To identify any conflicting terms as well as how different navigation layouts interact with each other.
- Page layout – To show how a page layout and colour scheme affect the way users scan a page.
Eye tracking is least useful if you want to:
- Gather user feedback – In order to generate an accurate heat map users can’t be asked too many questions as they’ll often look away from the screen when answering questions.
- Know why – Eye tracking will tell you what people look at and what they don’t look at but it won’t tell you why.
- Test on a budget – Eye tracking is more expensive as it involves the hiring of technology and extra time to analyse the results. Stick with regular methods if you’re budget is limited.
I hope this basic introduction to eye tracking has been useful. If you are interested in seeing how real users actually use your website (with or without eye tracking) then give me a shout. You can observe the user testing in person (in the observation room) or we can stream the sessions live from the testing lab directly to your computer.