Archive for June 2006
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.
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.
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:
- Splash screens
- Tiny fonts
- Pop-up ads
- Lots of animations
- No hint of whitespace
- Poor use of web standards
- Incredibly dense layouts
- Registration required to get to the content
Here are a few examples:
Are there any beautiful, elegant football sites out there?!
There’s a lot of hype about eye-tracking at the moment, what with talk of F-shaped reading patterns and the daily presentation of heat maps. So it’s refreshing to see a really thoughtful critique of eye-tracking methods by Michael Hatscher over at user-experience-design.com. The crux of his argument is as follows:
Attention in itself is free of value, it is neither positive nor negative. The processing and the interpretation are the important things about stimuli. 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. True, eye tracking can be used to see whether a given ad diverts the users from the content, or whether a certain link is in an area that’s likely to be scanned at all. But on the whole, visual attention just provides the data necessary for a user to decide on further activity. Thus, for me, eye tracking is a technique that can be used to maybe support a usability test or an expert review, but it’s not a usability evaluation method in itself..
In other words, eye-tracking studies don’t really amount to much unless you can also demonstrate that there’s a behavioural response (user action) based on what is seen. The only thing you can be reasonably sure of is what a user hasn’t seen on a page. And even then there are effects such as peripheral vision that eye-tracking can’t easily deal with.