where to use eye tracking?

18 Jun 2010 - 6:12am
3 years ago
9 replies
1575 reads

Hi all,

Recently I got chance to try out eye tracking setup for one project. But I'm little confused about what phase is appropriate for using eye tracking. I mean for performance test, we can take tasks and test with users and get observations, for affordance test, I don’t think there is any need of eye tracking setup (as it can be executed by asking questions). So according to my understanding, eye tracking is purely for re-design so is this understanding correct?

Thanks, Kishor Sonawane


18 Jun 2010 - 1:02pm
Arun Sharma Chi...

Eye Tracking is generally used in conjunction with other methods
except think aloud to understand the visual processing behavior over a
stimulus(image, advertisement,  website, software etc.). Thorough
observation there is a likelihood that you can bias the results the
same goes with interviews and other methods of self reports. But, with
eye tracking you get actual results of the viusal processing behavior
of participants which can help in triangulating results as well as
supporting the results from other methods using gaze plots or heat
maps.  You can also perform Area of Interest (AOI) analysis where in
you define areas of interest on your interface and perform various
established quantitative measurements such as time to first fixation,
total fixation time, the number of saccdes (indicates the visual
search behavior) etc.

Hope this helps !

Arun Sharma Chintalapati

Training Intern
Tobii Technology Inc
Falls Church, VA

18 Jun 2010 - 10:34pm
Jared M. Spool

I believe you use eye tracking at that phase in the project when you have a ton of money to burn and can't think of anything useful to do with it.

You can also use it at the point when you have a point to prove and you want to have a fancy data visualization that you can interpret to mean anything you want.

Other than that, it's not particularly useful.

That's my opinion. It's worth what you paid for it.


20 Jun 2010 - 11:13pm

Thanks Arun  and Jared for replying.

21 Jun 2010 - 10:05am

Hi Jared. I'm a bit surprised at your response. We have done some limited eye tracking on the ba.com homepage. We have banner ads (amongst other things) on the page, with relatively low click-through. It's been useful (I think) to see that people either don't look at them at all, or have very low dwell times. This suggests that they are reacting to the fact that they are banners, rather than the possibility that the message isn't appealing (which of course could also be the case). It's also relevant to find the dwell time if you have an animation, and find that people down't look for long enough to see multiple frames.

  Whilst with other methods you can determine the effectiveness of a given design, eye tracking can help to diagnose some of the reasons.

On Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 6:39 AM, kishor <cskishor@gmail.com> wrote:

Thanks Arun  and Jared for replying.

21 Jun 2010 - 2:05pm

I'm not surprised at all at Jared's views because they are very consistent.  And As much as I love and respect Jared, I disagree on several points.

1. Once you have an eye-tracking unit, it doesn't cost any more to use it than to not use it.  There is an initial investment, but if that investment is either covered as a pass-through expense or is part of the way you got the assignment, an eye-tracker can actually make you money, not cost you money.

2. When you use it depends on what you are trying to do, and in what context.  Modern eye-tracking is not invasive and doesn't require the participant to tell you what they are doing.  Some believe that "think aloud" biases respondents, and others believe that "think aloud" impacts the timing of interactions (Thanks to Mike Summers for this insight).  If you share those beliefs, then eye-tracking might make sense as a replacement for think-aloud.

3. Tracking scan paths over time and in the context of a motivated activity has been the basis of several research projects I have done.  It is my opinion, again worth what you paid for it, that the insights derived would not have been as clear or actionable without the ability to track the user's eye movements.  Switching, dwell time, and the dissonance between what people say they saw and what their eye-s tracked to are all informative to a skilled facilitator.

There are a lot of pretenders out there, and a fair number of people who use their machine as a marketing tool (see point #1), but I find it pretty useful every now and again.


22 Jun 2010 - 6:03pm
Jared M. Spool

Hi Dante,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I'm a little confused on your #1: It doesn't cost money to use it once you have it.

First, it eats electricity. Second, it produces data that needs some sort of analysis or interpretation. Third, as others have pointed out, it eats into time with the participant -- time that could be spent doing something else. Fourth, explaining the results (and properly qualifying it to what it *really* is telling you) takes time and energy.

There is no free lunch. There is also no free user research data. If the data isn't adding value, how do you justify the costs?

As for your #2 point, timing of interactions is a silly thing to do in almost every modern context. So, if think aloud affects that, don't do think aloud. Eye tracking is not a replacement for think aloud because it doesn't explain what's in the participant's head. It only explains what's in the observer's as they overlay their biases into the interpretation of the results.

As for point #3, you can use any input you want. So, if you think the scan paths, dwell times, and dissonance between what they say they saw and what the eye tracker does means something, go for it. I can do the same thing with tea leaves and tarot cards, with substantially less initial investments.

I'm sure the eye tracking hardware is useful. I'm just not sure it's useful for enhancing the results of solid user research. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not.

That's my opinion,



21 Jun 2010 - 5:11pm
Alan James Salmoni


Things may have changed since I last used an eye-tracker (~6-8 years ago), but when I did, I found that only 30% of participants could be accurately measured - this translates into participant payment, time etc which does bump costs up. Of course, this is not so if eye-trackers can reliably measure a greater percentage of participants. Has the equipment improved?


I'm being pedantic here but eye trackers don't tell us about visual processing behaviour - they just pinpoint gaze. Visual processing is enormously complicated (I was taught by Tom Troscianko, a psychophysicist who was in turn taught by Richard Gregory - of 'Eye and Brain' RIP. The book is well worth the read) and mostly occurs in the brain (with some processing in the retina). Gaze can tell us what the eye is focused on but not what is being processed or perceived.

And attention can be somewhere other than focus...


22 Jun 2010 - 4:05pm

We usually get good tracking on 80% of participants, and for those we're not able to track, we continue the test and gather what information we can.  I never rely on technology alone...always have a back-up plan!

Dante Murphy | VP/D User Experience | D I G I T A S  H E A L T H

100 Penn Square East| Wanamaker Building, 11th Floor | Philadelphia, PA 19107 | USA 

Office: +1 215 399 3456 | Fax: +1 215 545 4440 | Mobile: +1 215 847 7245

Email: dmurphy@digitashealth.com


22 Jun 2010 - 12:13pm
Arun Sharma Chi...


Research has shown that task which have complex information processing involved (ex reading etc) have a high coupling between attention and visual behavior. See Rayner,K., Eye Movements in Reading and Information Processing: 20 Years of Research.Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol. 124, No. 3, 372-422. In his paper there is a section titeld "Eye Movement and Attention" where he discusses previous research in this area.

I might also be wrong but thanks for the references will definetly check them out.






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