U.S. researchers love to unearth patterns, and when we do eye tracking studies, the potential for finding patterns is really great. But whether we’re watching people in an eye tracking study or any kind of study, it would behoove us to keep in mind that the task the user is trying to achieve matters greatly. Whatever is motivating the user’s heart or mind impacts what he’ll click, whether he’ll scroll and what he’ll look at. People don’t read everything on a Web page and they don’t choose randomly what to read. Instead, they choose based on patterns they’ve seen on that page or on that website or on the web in general. Let’s look at an example, this time on the Beeby website. This time we gave people a page addresses and we asked people to do various tasks looking at that page.
And this task, the user is deciding which dress is the prettiest. Notice how she ignores most things on the page, but scans to the dresses. In this task, the users determining what is the average price of the dresses here, she scans below the images mainly to just the prices. And in this task, she’s estimating the average age of the models she scans mostly to the models faces and a little bit to the bodies, two of the best visual traits that designers can strive for in their design is to make their page layouts predictable and consistent.
Doing this enables users to scan pages easier. I’d like to say I thought of the study design, but it’s actually taken almost completely from a study done back in nineteen sixty seven by an eye tracking pioneer named Alfred Jarvis. In his study, he showed his participants a painting and asked them to answer various questions about the visitor who was arriving in that painting. And what he saw was very different gaze replays, depending on the task that the users was trying to do, just like we see today on the Web. Fifty years later.