Research Methods 2.8.2021
Eye tracking is the method of gathering research on the visual activity of users when interacting with a product or interface. It can be used to measure where users are looking, where they are looking, and for how long they have been looking at a certain area. Used as a research method in a wide variety of practices such as human computer interaction and product design, eye tracking allows researchers to gauge patterns of user attention and levels of fixation.
Eye tracking technology was first introduced in 2001 by a then-startup called “Tobii,” and has since improved drastically over recent years. In the early stages, researchers had participants wear specially designed contact lenses that communicated their optical activity. Today, advanced camera technology captures infrared light that has been reflected off the corneas of the research participants. New technology also gives researchers the ability to apply small electrodes to the eyes of participants and use electrical signals to track movement. Different technological methods can be applied to different situations as researchers see fit. As participants look at displays, read text, or engage with products, eye tracking can paint an accurate picture of the way humans give attention and pick up cues.
Heat maps often accompany eye tracking research when results from multiple participants are compiled in the form of a map with overlapping data points. These heat maps then allow researchers to better analyze their collected data sets. Areas with the most traffic indicate where participants looked the most or gave higher levels of attention, and less populated areas can show lack of interest.
From website navigation to parking kiosks and signage, eye tracking can be used to inform and improve the visual design of important day to day interactions. For example, Toyota partnered with Tobii Pro to use eye tracking technology in efforts to improve the car-buying experience in showrooms. In this experiment, researchers split 92 participants by age into groups of “Millenials” and “Other,” then had them enter a showroom equipped with eye tracking technology. Interestingly, it was shown that younger audiences fixated on digital displays and interactions, whereas older people relied more on text content. Ultimately, Toyota found that interactive digital elements were more effective in promoting sales, and they were able to analyze the data generated from eye tracking to augment the showroom experience for shoppers.