Archive for June 2006

Observers influence behaviour

The BBC reports on a study by researchers at Newcastle University who found that people paid nearly three times as much for drinks by putting money in an “honesty box” in a canteen when a poster of a pair of eyes was above the box than when the poster was of some flowers. The interpretation is that people alter their behaviour to become more socially acceptable if they feel that they are being watched.

This, I think, has major implications for user testing and other forms of user research where the moderator/tester/experimenter is present as it’s very likely that many people will alter their behaviour towards what they think the tester wants. I’ve certainly encountered people in user tests who I’d class as “pleasers” – they may struggle with an interface, but are always ridiculously positive about absolutely anything they are presented with. You can actively encourage users to be as honest and open as possible (“I didn’t have anything to do with the design of this site, so please feel free to be to be totally honest about it”, “we’re not testing you in any way at all – we’re interested in the website and trying to make it work better so that people understand it”), but ultimately there must be some bias due the presence of the tester. The real problem for user testing is that we really don’t know how big an effect this is.

More on the usefulness of eyetracking

After Michael Hatscher’s critique of eyetracking a couple of weeks ago, it’s very interesting to see that Jared Spool also has reservations. Spool’s conclusions, based on observing hundreds of eyetracking tests, are very similar to the theoretical objections raised by Hatscher:

...we began to question what the eyetracker was actually trying to tell us. It seemed to us that what the user focused their gaze on was not necessarily what they were seeing. So, if the eyetracker doesn’t tell us what a user sees, what does it tell us? I’m not sure.

Are all football sites ugly?

With the start of the tournament just days away, I took a peek at the official World Cup 2006 website. Unsurprisingly, it looks like an awful lot of other football websites. Which is a shame, because most football sites make MySpace look classy. The football site designers checklist usually contains most of the following:


I'm Stuart Church, a user experience consultant with Pure Usability in Bristol, UK. Sensorydrive is my personal blog and covers user experience design, information architecture, product design, psychology, research methods, perception and pretty much anything else that takes my fancy! You can find out a bit more about me if you want...