A review of
Eye Tracking in User Experience Design
By Jennifer Romano Bergstrom
and Andrew Jonathan Schall
About this book
A good reference for Methods/How-To, Case Studies
Primary audience: Researchers and designers who are new to the topic or have some or significant experience with the topic
Writing style: Matter-of-fact with equal parts text and images
Publisher Elsevier, 2014, 360 pages, 14 chapters
With the rapid development of technologies comes new ways for user experience researchers to gather data that influence product development. Eye tracking (ET) is a method that has been around since the early 1900s with Raymond Dodge and Thomas Sparks Cline developing one of the first precise eye trackers in 1901. The technology continues to improve and its applications are now more widespread, spanning everything from cockpit to app design. Further, ET continues to advance alongside the development of technology. For example, we can now evaluate how people interact with smartwatches and fitness trackers; similarly, eye-tracking maker Tobii produces the Tobii Pro Glasses 2, which allow for seamless tracking while one is engaging with multiple devices, such as a desktop computer and mobile phone.
I had experience using desktop solutions for ET prior to conducting my own research for mobile device ET solutions. I looked to Jennifer Romano Bergstrom and Andrew Schall’s Eye Tracking in User Experience Design for guidance. I anticipated it would be a how-to guide and expected to bookmark some good information. However, once I began, I couldn’t put the book down. Before I knew it, I found myself evangelizing the method and exploring ways to purchase an ET system at my company.
Eye Tracking in User Experience Design provides a brief history of ET and informs the reader of basic anatomy and functioning of the human visual system. This history is helpful for beginners and should be a flashback for those who have taken a perception or cognition course. Either way, this is an important chapter because it is essential in explaining to your stakeholders what those “dots and lines” really are. It also helps in understanding how to analyze gaze plots and heat maps.
The remaining chapters are excerpts written by experts in the field of ET who share their knowledge and experiences about the varied applications of ET. Some applications include: visual search, usability testing, web content, forms and surveys, e-commerce, mobile, and more! I love this structure because the reader can decide whether to read the book in its entirety, like I did, or, go to specific sections that are most relevant to them.
The forms and surveys chapter really stood out to me because the content is very actionable. Caroline Jarrett and Romano Bergstrom indicate most web content is optional, but forms (e.g., for registration, payment, etc.) are generally serving a needed purpose. As a result, it’s especially important to ensure they are designed well. The authors explain a lot of ET research and provide useful insights about how to optimize your forms and surveys for usability.
The web content chapter by Ian Everdell also stood out to me. This chapter discusses how to optimize web content. For example, when presenting lists, most people assume that the last item in a list gets the least amount of attention, but ET reveals that, in fact, the first, second, and last item on the list should be your most important content and the least should be sandwiched in between.
While reading this book, it became more apparent to me that ET is not necessarily a method to be used on its own, but it can and should be integrated with traditional lab testing. The usability testing chapter by Erica Olmsted-Hawala, Temika Holland, and Victor Quach discusses when to employ ET and the benefits of triangulating usability testing with ET. It doesn’t always have to be a heavy-lifting quantitative study; qualitative ET can provide great value, as well.
As Romano Bergstrom and Schall explain, ET is a large time and cost investment, so you don’t need to run out to buy an ET machine right away. There are rental options that could be a fabulous way to start, especially if you need to demonstrate value to your stakeholders before purchasing a system. Alternatively, you can hire a vendor to complete a project in its entirety, since there can be a learning curve in running it if it is your first time or have not run one in a while. In the meantime, this book provides a great framework for understanding ET and how to apply it.
What This Book is Not
This book is focused on desktop more than mobile. Although one chapter discusses mobile, I would have liked to have seen more insights in this area. If you are looking for guidance on how to purchase an eye tracker or potential costs, you might want to reach out to a vendor or visit one of their booths at a local conference.
Also, this book is not a step-by-step how-to guide. If that is what you are looking for, check out Eye Tracking the User Experience: A Practical Guide to Research by Aga Bojko. The two books complement each other well and are good starting points for beginning eye tracking.
Book Excerpt: Are There Different Types of Visual Search?
Visual search is a combination of two different types of behavior: goal-directed and exploratory search behavior, each using a different part of our brain. In goal-directed search, we actively search for information following a specific strategy or plan. In exploratory search, we just monitor the environment, and we usually do not have a search plan in mind. Exploratory search is our default behavior because whenever we are not actively involved in looking up information, our visual system keeps screening the environment. (From Posner & Petersen, 1990; Janiszewski, 1998.)
In both types of visual search behavior, our fixations are influenced by how objects are laid out on a web page. Objects on a web page compete with each other to win our attention. The intensity of this competition can be numerically calculated as a function of the number of objects on the viewable screen, their size, and their proximity to each other. The competition for attention theory (Janiszewski, 1998) tells us that the race for attention between the objects in our field of view affects how we screen the environment (exploratory search) and how we actively search for a piece of information (goal-directed search). Therefore, when we examine search behavior, we should carefully look at how objects compete for attention (Janiszewski, 1998).
Let’s look at this competition in practice. Consider a retail shopping website. Some sites display their products in a list format, while others display their products in a matrix format. Displaying products in a list format creates a more competitive environment for attracting user attention than displaying products in a matrix format (Hong et al., 2005). This suggests that visual search behavior on search engine results pages (SERPs), which typically have a list format, is influenced by a visually demanding environment.
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