Maximizing Generalizability, Precision, and Realism: A review of Incorporating Eye-tracking in UX Research to Inform Design

By armgar

Jen Romano–Bergstrom is a UX Research Lead at Instagram and Facebook. Some of her work currently involves survey design, usability testing, and writing. She is also known for using the research method known as eye-tracking to collect data based on human behavior. This technology now allows for users’ physical actions—all along with emotional responses—to be tracked for further analysis (Facebook Research, Person: Jen Romano–Bergstrom).

For a company and app like Instagram, this means they can determine what content users favor and how to guide them to it easily. The data is shared with influencers and advertisers. What does this mean to a regular user or the general public? Well, better placed ‘Like’, ‘Share’, and ‘Comment’ buttons…and ads, of course.

Furthermore, how would the methods employed in eye-tracking measure up to McGrath’s strategy circumplex in determining successful research on human behavior?

Generalizability

Romano-Bergstrom sums up that eye-tracking studies may be better for conducting research on those users who are not good with verbalizing their thoughts. The most notable (emphasized by Jen) is that people do not read dense text on Facebook and they only read what they need to read. Users are also reported to consume this content on mobile faster than they do on desktop.

The notable aspects of these summaries is that the Actors, in accordance with McGrath’s research strategies, cover a vast portion of the population. Evidence has been gathered between young and old, experts and novices, and mobile and desktop users in remote and lab settings.

Precision

Eye-tracking involves tracking users’ eye movements. Specifically, as users scroll through the apps, researchers can follow the linear movement of the eye and record lengths of time given to spans of attention versus gaze. This data can be represented virtually and in real-time. The maps created by the eye movement can be processed as video recordings or static images for later review.

There is a high level of control in recording the data represented: if the gaze falls of the screen, it can still be observed, but won’t affect the mapping process. The researcher can determine whether those ‘off-screen’ actions are relevant or not.

Realism

Researchers are also able to watch as users learn to interact with the product — something that can tell a lot about users’ behaviors. It is also valuable in the sense that testing can be accomplished successfully in unmoderated and remote testing.

Designers are able to test initial drafts by displaying screenshots and mock-ups on-screen that perform basic functions. Post-launch testing of features and things like copy, icons, placement  can also be administered.

The Dilemma

McGrath undoubtedly stresses that you cannot maximize all there criteria (McGrath 1994). In this case, the design of the eye-tracking research methods are well beyond flexible. 

There are three categories of the user experience data collected with Eye-tracking: Observational, Self-Report, and Physiological. Click patterns can be analyzed through observation. Meanwhile, users are more likely to think-aloud in a setting where eye-tracking is administered. They can report satisfaction and difficulty of the task more readily. If moderators are present, they have a chance to debrief the users. Tracking is also being expanded to include collection of emotional and electro-dermal activity through new quantitative/numerical coding.

From a physiological perspective, researchers can track the eye and observe what attracts users’ attentions. They can discover areas of confusion and/or interests. From this, designers and researchers can validate their updates to the content or the site’s interactive elements.

Sources

Facebook Research, Person: Jen Romano–Bergstrom. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://research.fb.com/people/romano-bergstrom-jen/

Jen Romano-Bergstrom, Incorporating Eye-tracking in UX Research to Inform Design (personal communication, October 11, 2017).

McGrath, J. (1994). “Methodology matters: doing research in the behavioral and social sciences.” Original paper. http://d.ucsd.edu/class/grad-IxD/2015/ private/readings/mcgrath_methodology_matters.pdf.

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