Understanding the User Experience Through Eye Tracking

Near the start of the 20th century, Edmund Huey created an eye tracker consisting of a contact lens with a hole for the viewer’s pupil and an attached aluminum pointer. Huey’s invention surely made for some uncomfortable testing sessions, however it brought researchers closer to the valuable eye tracking methods in use today.

Eye tracking gives researchers insight into users’ emotions and unconscious reactions to interfaces. People usually focus their attention on what they are looking at. Because of this, tracking the length of time spent looking at an area can be a good way to indirectly analyze people’s cognitive processes. This is what makes eye tracking such a valuable tool in interface and experience design.

The following are just three (of the many) applications of eye tracking:

Comparing Salience With Heat Maps

Heat maps are color-coded representations of the length of time that users spend looking at different areas of an interface. These maps can help indicate what is and is not standing out to users.

Example: A heat map could reveal that error messages are being missed due to a distracting graphic on the same page.

Understanding User Decision Processes With Gaze Plots

Gaze plots show how long someone looked at a specific area and the sequence of places they looked. These plots can help researchers understand what information users look at while making a decision.

Example:  A gaze plot could show that when choosing a camera to buy on a website, users look first at price, then at consumer rating.

Measuring Complexity With Length of Fixation

Eye tracking data on how long someone looked at a piece of text or call to action can indicate what is more and less complex to them. Shorter viewing times can indicate that the area in focus is simple and longer times can indicate that it is complex.

Example:  A comparison of fixation times for instructions that are given in larger blocks and instructions that are bulleted may show that users will fixate for longer on the larger blocks as they take longer to process.

The applications of eye tracking for user experience researchers and designers are apparent and exciting. Hopefully, this technology will continue to be used and applied creatively to craft engaging designs and enticing user experiences in the future.