Eye tracking is a way of monitoring the way our eyes interact with something through the use of sophisticated cameras. In government, eye tracking usability tests are often done with web sites or printed materials. The goal is to find which elements catch our eyes, and where our gaze moves as we search for information.
Recently, Dr. Kathryn Summers, head of the usability program at the University of Baltimore, kindly invited our First Fridays Usability Team for a free eye tracking usability test on our own Howto.gov website. We regularly test digital products without the use of expensive equipment, so this was a neat treat for us.
The standard eye tracker looks like a computer monitor with small cameras in the corners. You’ll sit down at the terminal, and the eye tracker follows where your eye moves (similar to an Xbox Kinect tracking body movements). The person administering the test will ask the tester to complete tasks. Then, the eye trackers follow which parts of the page they are viewing — or avoiding.
A handful of federal agencies have eye trackers, but few are open for others to use.
As you can see in the picture above, the red lines indicate where a person is looking. The red dots are called fixations – the larger the dots get, the longer a person is looking at a particular spot. Watching a live eye tracking session is an amazing experience, and not just because the technology is so cool. Watching the human eye as it responds to your web page, you keenly feel the aimlessness when it can’t find something.
Many eye tracking sessions also record the tester’s face, so you can monitor their expressions and see when they were confused or frustrated (we’ve blurred their face for this post).
Eye trackers can give you amazing quantitative data on how people actually use your site, including unconscious behaviors. Below is a heat map generated by adding up all of the eye tracking data and color-coding it.
Red areas are where people look at most frequently; green and yellow areas are looked at but not as often.
As you can see, people generally look in the top-left portion of a web page. A lot of our content in the right-hand side of the page was completely ignored — very useful information for our upcoming redesign.
For more information, read about eye tracking at usability.gov.