Is eye-tracking useful?

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.

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One Response to “Is eye-tracking useful?”

  1. More on the usefulness of eyetracking : Sensorydrive - Stuart Church’s blog about user experience on May 12th, 2008 9:37 pm

    [...] Michael Hatscher’s critique of eyetracking a couple of weeks ago, it’s very interesting to see that Jared Spool also has reservations. [...]

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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...

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