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Eye tracking and UX testing: when, how, and if you should use it.

This blog post explores some methods of best practice for running UX tests, and how you can apply eye tracking for even better results.

User Experience Usability research Eye tracking Eye tracker Tobii Pro Nano

Eye tracking isn’t for every UX question, but for those it answers, it does so in a way no other method can. A great user experience is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s an expectation from customers. Failing to impress, or at least be understood, at the point of first interaction with your product or service means almost certain and immediate abandonment from a customer, so, in this current landscape of prolific UX optimization, how can you give yours the edge?

A quick summary for those new to eye tracking: Eye tracking is the process of accurately measuring where people look, and in most cases, recording it so it can be viewed later. You can learn more about it here.

Ask the right questions and get the most from your user testing

Defining what you want to find out about the user’s experience will help you see which testing method makes the most sense. Of course, the depth and breadth of you research will depend on the resources available to you, but there are some things to consider that will apply to most situations - whether you’re shaping a product from scratch or revitalizing a poor performing one.

These are:

  • How you define the question and goal of your tests – rather than trying to sweep all usability questions into one basket like ‘assess user interaction with the product’ be narrow with your objectives and explore each question individually, such as, ‘determine if button X is seen and understood’ or ‘determine if the size and color selection details for product A are easily understood’.
  • How you frame each test – don’t try and explore all your issues or questions at once. Focus on one feature or function at a time and test them individually so your tests doesn’t lose focus or become overly complicated.
  • How you measure/calculate and report your results – make your test outcomes measurable, e.g. ‘successfully complete task X’ or ‘complete task Y within 2 minutes’. This will help with benchmarking, reporting design improvements, and making your case to other stakeholders for suggested changes.
Computer with gaze blob

When to use eye tracking in UX testing


In a nutshell, eye tracking is useful when you want to know the why or when you want another layer of tangible feedback on user interaction that isn’t possible from other test methods.

UX designer, and educator at Stockholm’s Nackademin, Andreas Olsson, says it’s important to understand that “eye tracking is a tool in the toolbox and it’s not always needed for everything, that’s not to say it’s not a good tool, it’s just important not to overcomplicate your tests.”

He stresses the importance of using the right tools during the right phase of the design process. “If you’re testing if people are simply able to locate a button and fill out a form on your website, a simple time-based success or failure test might be sufficient. If you want to know how easily they find the button and how easy the form is to understand, then eye tracking might be ideal,” he says.

Computer with heat maps


What eye tracking can add to user testing

Eye tracking gives you a perspective that no other method can deliver; and that’s the one that belongs to the user. By using an eye tracking based UX testing tool, you can get unique insights into the way in which people engage with your product or design. This insight can help you at various points in the design process and can in many cases enhance the information you get from other test methods.

Henrik Fagerberg, a senior UX designer at user experience agency inUse, says he was pleasantly surprised when he started using eye tracking at the type of information it added to his existing tests “I could see that they [test participants] were actually looking at the thing they were trying to find but still couldn’t see it, or didn’t realize it was there, and I wouldn’t have known that without eye tracking.”

Eye tracking test sessions can be recorded and used for retrospective think-aloud interviews to get more information on the user’s experience and thought processes. This information can easily be shown to other stakeholders to increase their empathy with users and develop a greater understanding of designers’ recommendations.

Mr Fagerberg believes “The results are very tangible, for example with the purchase flow, you want to see how long people spend on each step and how easily they find the process, eye tracking allows you to see how they run through the process with their eyes rather than just looking at the click data and mouse movements, eye tracking is much more telling about their mental processes.”

The insights gleaned from eye tracking offer useful detail on user behavior, uncovering things like:

  • Gaze patterns while interacting with content – this is useful for determining how people scan your content (F pattern or layer-cake) and in what order information is processed and for how long.
  • Stumbling points - exactly what element caused confusion or required more time to understand than it should (do certain elements need stronger cues).
  • Blindspots – elements that are simply ignored (think, ‘banner blindness’ or deliberate disregard for certain features).
person using an eye tracker on a laptop

How to start implementing eye tracking into your user tests

 

The beauty of eye tracking for user experience testing is that it’s incredibly easy to get started with. In most cases you simply attach the eye tracker to your laptop via the USB port, make sure it’s running with your viewing/recording software and away you go.

While there’s a wide range of eye tracking products out there for running your tests, some general considerations you should have when planning are:

  • Pilot your tests before participants arrive – running a mock test with a colleague before the real one/s (at least a day or two, not an hour) will help you iron out any tech glitches or setup problems.
  • Check if and participants wear glasses and if your eye tracker can handle this - (Tobii trackers can)
  • Factor in more time than usual especially if you plan to run a retrospective think aloud interview with your eye tracking gaze recording. It’s often surprising what questions this information brings up and you might want to discuss things you hadn’t even considered before starting the test.
  • Make sure you have adequate but not overwhelming lighting as very bright lights or intense sunlight can affect some eye trackers.

Most importantly enjoy the process! Unfortunately, there’s still a perception out there that eye tracking is complicated and expensive, but that’s simply not the case anymore, and those who fail to consider it in their user testing toolbox are missing out on valuable user insights.

 

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