I usually use a very simple example to explain the value of eye tracking in user experience research compared to traditional methods like observation. In this example I use a user test on a door!
Let’s say I am making a new door and I want to test the usability of that door. To open the door you need to pull the handle. So I want to do a small user study to see whether or not people understand how to open the door. I invite three typical users to take part in my test and I ask them to use the door while I’m observing their behavior. The first user pulls the door and manages to get to the other side without any problem.
The next user tries to push to get through the door so it does not open. And the third one pulls and gets through. We have in other words found a usability problem; one out of three did not understand that the door needs to be pulled to open.
So we think we can easily solve the problem by adding a PULL sign on the door. But I invite one more user to test if the sign actually had a positive impact on the behavior. But even though the sign is on the door this user still tries to push to get through. We had found the problem and we thought we had solved it by putting the sign on the door, but still we notice that something is wrong. Why does the user not pull the door even though there is a clear instruction?
This is where eye tracking comes in to give more information on the actual behavior which is hard to notice by just using observations. So we look at the eye tracking data from the test and notice that the natural behavior when opening a door is to focus on the handle which can be seen in the heat map to the right. Thus the pull sign we put on the door is missed as it is placed in the wrong location were users don’t look.
So to really solve the problem and make the door more user friendly we simply need to move the pull sign to an area where people are looking while solving a task like this.
This very basic example shows clearly the value of eye tracking. Eye tracking can reveal the actual behavior which is hard to detect by just observing, eye tracking can also create visual illustrations of the behavior, like a heat map, which describe the users behavior instantly, and last but not least eye tracking data can give a valuable insight into how to solve a problem based on the actual behavior of users. Like in this case by placing the sign where people are actually looking while solving the task.