Eyetrack III

8 Sep 2004 - 11:34pm
10 years ago
2 replies
576 reads

By now you've probably seen the Eyetrack III study:

What We Saw Through Their Eyes
By Steve Outing and Laura Ruel

What do people see when they view a news website or multimedia feature? Is
it what the site's designers expect? ... Perhaps not. The Eyetrack III study
literally looked through the eyes of 46 people to learn how they see online


I remember reading about such studies in the context of print design and TV
layout before the web, but I'm curious if anyone took it a step further than
navigation and studied the impact of eye fixation in terms of comprehension,
retention, spatial orientation, attitude towards content, etc., along the
lines of "looking is not seeing."

Nullius in Verba


9 Sep 2004 - 7:17am
Lada Gorlenko

> <http://www.poynterextra.org/eyetrack2004/>

Thanks for the link! It is an excellent example of a very well done
research where the most important part is missing - the interpretation.
Don't get me wrong, I very much respect their study design rigour and
clarity of data presentation. But the question remains - SO WHAT? What do
the findings MEAN for both users and businesses, for their goals? The
research tells a good story about the functionality of a (news) web page
design and it tells little about its implications (when it does, it often
makes assumptions not supported by other research).

I am concerned that the majority of web designers will not be skilled in
deriving usability implications from the Eyetrack data. No, web designers
are not dumb. They are imaginative, clever, and proficient, just in
different areas. Such an interpretation would require a good grasp of
cognitive psychology, and this is not the most common skill in the

Some findings are simply dangerous to be left without interpretation, such
as the one about text size: "Want people to read, not scan? Consider small
type. Smaller type encourages focused viewing behaviour (that is, reading
the words), while larger type promotes lighter scanning".

"Reading" in this context sounds better than "scanning", unless you happen
to know how human perception works. It is a psychological fact that people
with average and above average reading skills DO scan text, at least at the
word level, and DO NOT visualise each letter individually. There is a body
of research showing that "scannable" texts are easier to comprehend than
those that require thorough reading. Ease of comprehension is part of ease
of use that, in turn, translates into customer satisfaction (more often
than not). Knowing that, would clients really want their customers to
"read, not scan"? Same old story - one has to know things to be able to
interpret data correctly. Cholesterol level figure means little to me,
unless I know how cholesterol affects my health and what the acceptable
level is. And so on. Nice try about "focused viewing behaviour" though -
didn't it ever cross the researchers' mind that the behaviour will be
"focused" because smaller types are more difficult to perceive??

It is not only about "interpreting for usability", it is also about
"interpreting for business" and for any other related side. Looking is not
seeing indeed.


9 Sep 2004 - 1:41pm

Lada Gorlenko:

> Some findings are simply dangerous to be left without interpretation...

This is what I am afraid of. A few months from now you'll be in a conference
room and, inevitably, somebody will demand small-size type or some other
"finding" from this study that they have scanned through, and you'll spend
the next few hours arguing about the notion of "looking is not seeing."

As I have previously said, eyetracking studies have been done in the print
design, advertising and TV industries for a long time. Though at first novel
and intriguing, they don't offer much more than what a good designer can
bring to the table.

Nullius in Verba

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