For businesses to fully benefit from VR, placing people in the virtual world is only half of the equation. This blog post talks about how instant access to visualizations from eye tracking, interaction and navigation measurements collected from 3D VR environments can help you better train your staff, engage with your customers or optimize the design of your next project.
On a supermarket shelf, the surrounding products determine how well a brand stands out as much as the pack design. The most eye-catching of billboards can fail to turn heads when the sun is behind it. A warning message on an operator’s dashboard can be completely missed if the worker is distracted by a phone call.
The dynamic changes in an environment that affect attention can present quite a challenge for anyone looking for insights on behavior, regardless of whether they are interested in optimizing the visibility of brand, improving informational signage in an airport or training quality assurance teams on how to check a vehicle coming off an assembly line. This is because dynamic changes are hard to control in the real world.
It is incredibly difficult to establish the consequences of an environmental change without the ability to test it repeatedly with different participants. The best alternative is to collect data from enough people to allow the behaviors of interest to be visible regardless of the environmental noise. Large samples can be expensive and take a long time to collect and analyze, but to ignore the contextual effects is to risk the value of the research in the first place.
For years, the only other viable solution has been to compromise on the realism of the research, for example by using screens of various sizes in combination with software or prepared stimuli that afford the control needed by researcher to establish causality for behavior change. But such compromises mean that you are really changing the context again, and if there’s one thing we know from years of vision research, it’s that visual properties such as size, brightness, depth and viewing angle can significantly affect visual attention. For example, the findability of a product on a supermarket shelf will be different if it is displayed on 40” TV screen or a full-size projection.
But the technology advancements that come with VR change everything. Now you can immerse a participant in highly realistic, 3D environments that you CAN control.
With complete control over the environment, eye tracking in VR not only makes it possible to measure attention, it also enables the optimization of designs, interfaces, and procedures that robustly maintain that attention for a range of environmental differences.
One of the most exciting aspects of analytics obtained from eye tracking in VR is the almost limitless range of applications, so here are a just few where the combination of eye tracking and VR will enable greater insights and return on investment:
Better customer experience
Package designs, planograms, and point-of-sale messaging can now all be tested without the need for expensive full-scale projection screens. Additionally, fixtures can easily be embedded in a variety of contexts, meaning packaging can be optimized to work in a range of retail outlets with different layouts and competing products. Automated eye tracking analytics enable both the decision hierarchy and the design features to be evaluated ensuring that products not only capture attention but hold it long enough to trigger a purchase.
Safe and effective training
VR is increasingly being used to train employees in areas such as customer service, quality assurance, or technical troubleshooting because it enables repeatable scenarios without any negative consequences or safety risks. This is particularly valuable for medical training as it allows staff to practice new skills without any patient risk. Eye-movement research has been used extensively to study differences between novices and professionals and it can now be used to provide direct feedback to trainees on how they attend to decision drivers, what they miss, and where they succeed. It can also help illustrate the visual strategies of experts in their field.
Traditionally, good contextual testing of design has required physical prototypes to be created which is both costly and restrictive because it is not very supportive of collaborative or agile testing methods. Virtual reality provides designers with a way to test early concepts in a meaningful environment without sacrificing the ability to test multiple concepts or variants of a design. With eye tracking, this means designs can be optimized to attract attention or for ease of comprehension, in the case of signage for example.
Whether for game design, educational applications, medical simulation, or clinical interventions to treat phobias, the applications of research using eye tracking in VR are many and varied.
If you’d like assistance running a VR research project, Tobii Pro Insight offers fully managed eye tracking studies conducted by a team of experts.
Dr Tim Holmes is a visual neuroscientist who researches the role that environment and design play in decision-making and behavior. He is recognized as a leading authority on eye tracking and visual attention and has worked with brands, retailers, architects, content creators, and sports teams to educate on and develop behavioral interventions. Tim also works with many academic institutions and is an award-winning educator and public speaker on cognitive neuroscience and behavioral influences.