Eyetracking Web Usability Review

We’ve talked in the past, to a small degree, about eyetracking web usability principles and how important they are. We’ve never had a chance to really examine what this science is and why it works the way it does. Frankly, it’s hard to fully explain this. It’s not remotely hard to get the basic idea, but to convey it? Oh it’s a headache. But, given how much we have to allude to this in other topics, I guess we’d better give it the old college try. What Exactly is Eyetracking Web Usability: This science owes itself first to the nature of the human eye. While we have peripheral vision pretty wide, only a small portion of our vision area is particularly sharp, and able to deliver more than preliminary data to the conscious mind. As a result, as a person surveys what’s in front of them, the focus of the eyes will dart around the sum area, studying individual regions in greater detail. The art of eyetracking is both the engineering of and mapping of the patterns traced by these eye movements as they behold a design of any form. This is used for printed graphics, architecture, landscaping, signage and the like, but gets its heaviest use in computers. Naturally. Engineering in What Sense: Well, when you engineer the eye tracking of a design, you can’t directly force the observer to follow a path. Instead, you must design whatever you’re working on in a way that this naturally happens – all the elements are noticed in detail by the observer, in the order you most prefer. This is all about placement, colors, fonts and what direction the intended demographic reads in, all kinds of things like that. We’ve done pieces on that aspect – how to guide the user’s order of perception. How to Map Them: Ok, well, mapping them off of a design you’ve made, to see if it jives with the intended pattern (or better), is a little harder to do. The other is all about a sense of art and order of attention grabbing. With this, however, it’s hard to gather data on it. You actually have to have users sit and describe what they look at as they see it. There is a huge margin of error with this, so it takes a lot of testing and summarizing to get enough solid, averagely dependable data on it. Why it Even Matters: Why does this even matter though? I mean, surely no matter what order they take your design in through, they ultimately get the gist right? Well, sometimes they do well enough, yes. But being easy to adopt and easy to learn or come to grips with is very useful. The easier it is to come to terms with your design, the more people can rapidly take to it, thus culminating in success of the design, most of the time. Conclusion: Now, eyetracking web usability is indeed a science. All we were doing here was to go over what it really is at its core, and why it matters. For the science associated with either side of it, take a look at our archives, we’ve talked a good bit about those parts before.
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com