How is eye tracking being used in UX research today?

eyetrackcakeI’m currently preparing for my keynote speech and workshops at EyetrackUX in Frankfurt next week. One of the topics I will be exploring in my speech is the different ways eye tracking is being used in usability and user experience research today.  Eye tracking can of course be used in many different ways in user research and one of the surprisingly common ways is to use it as “colorful sprinkle on the icing”, as I call it, meaning that you only use an eye tracker to make colorful heat maps and gaze plots without too much in analysis  – you just want to make your report a bit more sexy and interesting. When using eye tracking in this manner there is of course a risk of over interpreting the visualizations or not interpreting them at all. A lot of the criticism against eye tracking is directed at this way of using eye tracking. Just like in the blog quote below:

“Now comes the interesting part: It is also assumed that the more attention an area gets, the higher the probability that the user sees, understands and acts upon a given property of the stimulus. So, for a screen design, if a given function is placed in a presumably hot area and that area stays hot during the re-test, everybody is happy… The fact that users see something doesn’t mean they will click on this thing, perform their tasks faster, or enjoy a better user experience.”
From: http://www.user-experience-design.com/?p=27

A more mature way of using eye tracking is of course to make more in depth analysis and to combine eye tracking with other methods because eye tracking is only suitable as a standalone method in a few very limited cases. The recent Google Blog post on how they use eye tracking when analyzing search behavior describes this view very well:

“Eye-tracking gives us valuable information about our users’ focus of attention – information that would be very hard to come by any other way and that we can use to improve the design of our products. However, in our ongoing quest to make our products more useful, usable, and enjoyable, we always complement our eye-tracking studies with other methods, such as interviews, field studies and live experiments.”
From: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/eye-tracking-studies-more-than-meets.html

I will be exploring this topic more here on my blog after the EyeTrackUX conference next week so please come back later for more…

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