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Tracking the eye

September 20th, 2009

eyeSome years ago, I sat behind a one-way mirror as a research organization attached contraptions to volunteers as they viewed our websites. These contraptions tracked the user’s eye movements as they surfed our site trying to accomplish tasks we had outlined. The findings from our private study were surprising and made us reconsider some basic assumptions we had made about our audience.

There have been several eye tracking studies published on the web. While the specifics of our study applied only to our site, this study discusses some general principles to keep in mind when designing your sight for maximum impact. Some key findings from the report that I found interesting:

  1. Lists (such as this one) hold attention longer. If you are talking about several related points, a bullet list or numbered list will help draw it out.
  2. Show numbers as numerals instead of as text. 600 is easier to read than six hundred.
  3. Large blocks of text are avoided. Break your content into smaller, more digestible paragraphs instead of large blocks. Ignore the grammar rules.
  4. Big, clear images get a lot of attention.
  5. Users focus on the top-left corner first. Make it impactful.
  6. The bottom portion of your page is usually scanned. Only if something truly stands out, will it be read.

The most interesting part of the study was the eye tracking heat maps. They overlayed eye movement on several websites and found that the eye moves roughly in an “F” pattern. Top left -> Across -> Down and right -> Down -> then maybe gone:

More detail on these studies and more actionable suggestions can be found here. Keep these design ideas in mind when you are designing your next website, or re-evaluating your current site. (Bet you almost missed this line because you just scanned over it.)

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