Seeing is Believing (Book Review)

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Eye Tracking the User Experience – A Practical Guide to Research
By Aga Bojko
Rosenfeld Media, 2013

I used to consider eye tracking a bit of magic and hearing the term conjured up images of heatmaps and gaze plots. Recently, I have learned more about the method by working with teams who run user experience studies involving eye tracking.

While I frequently conduct or oversee user testing sessions, I have not had to plan and run an eye tracking study. When I do, I’ll know where to turn: Aga Bojko’s excellent new book Eye Tracking the User Experience – A Practical Guide to Research.

Bojko is a user experience researcher who has been involved with eye tracking in both academic and commercial settings since 2000. She describes her book as: “containing everything you need to know to successfully conduct an eye tracking study and obtain useful information from it.” This is no exaggeration.

The audience for this book is the UX practitioner. Bojko is consistent in writing for her audience throughout and the text is full of practical tips on how to make your study run smoothly.

The book follows an outline that is easy to follow, especially by anyone familiar with UX research activities:

  1. Why Eye Tracking?
  2. Study Preparation
  3. Data Collection
  4. Analysis and Reporting

Part one sets the stage for the rest of the book by opening with the big question: why use eye tracking in the first place? Bojko writes: “Where you place your gaze is typically associated with what you pay attention to and think about.” To me this is one of the key benefits of eye tracking—it gives you another facility to capture actual user behavior that you can then dissect and learn from.

The first part of the book also describes how to decide if eye tracking is a suitable method for your study. Bojko stresses that the selection of methods should always be driven from the high-level study objectives and chosen only after the research questions have been specified, not before. Eye tracking will not be appropriate for all studies. It is great to see this clearly stated.

The remaining three parts of the book cover preparing, running, and reporting on your study in detail. Consider it the how-to guide for eye tracking.

The chapters are organized in a logical way and help you learn the ropes on first reading. They also serve as a great reference in the future. Each chapter begins with an overview of the material covered and ends with a handy summary of the key points.

Bojko’s writing style is measured and easy to read. It is clear that the user (reader) is considered all the way through in how the content is structured and labeled. The content is also well supported by tables, visualizations, and case studies. UX researchers should take heed of gems such as “Rules for Making Your Graphs Usable.” since these rules apply to virtually all UX reports.

One of the great things about the book is the consistent focus on actionable insights. In Bojko’s words: “Rather than just focusing on what eye tracking can tell you, you should ask yourself, ‘Why do I need to know this?’ or even better, ‘What type of decisions do I want to be able to make based on the study results?’” The commercial reality is that study findings need to provide direct value to clients, and this is well represented in this book.

This book makes eye tracking approachable and explains it in detail from both methodological and tool perspectives. In doing so, it also makes it clear that conducting a proper eye tracking study is a lot of work. There are many things to consider in planning, running, and analyzing a usability study, and eye tracking adds to the effort. It is therefore important to consider where eye tracking can add value and to be judicious in applying it.

A minor criticism about the book is that the writing could have been more entertaining and perhaps the author more assertive at times. While I think the instructions could be clearer, I also recognize that writing about UX is (almost) never black and white.

Overall, Eye Tracking the User Experience is a great book, not only for eye tracking beginners, but also for seasoned professionals. The beginners will learn how eye tracking is much more than just heatmaps and gaze plots. For the seasoned eye tracking professional, this book will make you think about why you do things the way you do. Both audiences will pick up invaluable practical tips for running eye tracking studies. Definitely a must-read book.

Pasanen, J. (2014). Seeing is Believing (Book Review). User Experience Magazine, 14(1).
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