CUA of the Month – August, 2014

Andrew Schall
“What do people notice first, second, third and fourth, etc.? You only have a limited amount of time with a user, especially if you are talking about a homepage where they may only spend a few seconds. So you want to make sure that the things that they do notice you capture through eye tracking.”
Andrew Schall
Vice-President of User Experience
SPARK Experience

The Eyes Have It

by Jim Garrett

Eye tracking is still a relatively new technique for many UX professionals.  Our Certified Usability Analyst of the Month, Andrew Schall, happens to be an expert in this field. He is co-author of “Eye Tracking in User Experience Design.”

His eye-tracking projects have ranged from understanding how children interact with online multimedia to evaluating advanced library search and retrieval systems. He has pioneered new ways to collect, analyze, and present eye-tracking data. He is currently working on methods to synthesize eye-tracking data with web analytics for a more holistic understanding of the user’s experience. Andrew was formerly the eye tracking guru and trainer at Human Factors International.

Andrew is Vice-President of User Experience at SPARK Experience, a UX consulting firm that utilizes a full user-centered design approach. He has been there the five years SPARK Experience has been in business.

Andrew received his CUA training while working at Human Factors International before coming to SPARK Experience.

Where does eye tracking come into your projects?

We use eye tracking a lot to help us with understanding what attracts people’s attention or the things that are attracting their attention that the client wants them to pay attention to from a usability perspective.  Is what they are paying attention to helping them to complete tasks, or is it more of a distraction?  We have done quite a bit of eye tracking over the years.

How significant have you found it in terms of the overall project and the information you get from it?

If you are applying eye tracking in the right situations, it can give you a lot of deeper insights than just qualitative data alone. You have to make sure the entire project goals are really going to get the most value out of it.

We have found eye tracking to be especially beneficial in the e-commerce space. Understanding people’s buying behavior, and not just what they click on, but how someone navigates a page with a lot of projects on it in terms of where their eyes go. And if we know what their behavior is, we have a potential to influence it.

You can’t ask a person to give a running commentary on every single object that they are looking at.  That is way too disruptive. Eye tracking is valuable if you can’t necessarily ask someone about where they are looking, but you want to get a good sense of it for research purposes.

What kind of information do you get from the eye tracking?

There are a lot of metrics we rely on – we use the term visual hierarchy.  What do people notice first, second, third and fourth, etc.?  You only have a limited amount of time with a user, especially if you are talking about a homepage where they may only spend a few seconds. So you want to make sure that the things that they do notice you capture through eye tracking.

If we change something, we need to use eye tracking again to validate the change.  Is it about moving something here, or changing the design that did influence their looking behavior the way we want it to?  We usually carve up the site like a turkey – look at certain areas that we want to focus on so we create areas of interest to get metrics on that.  We look at how often someone has looked at a particular area or a certain element on the screen and how often and how long they look at it; what is their visual attention.  And finally how does it relate to what they actually click on? If they notice it, does it actually influence them to click or not? We have that information.

Can you think of any projects where you were forced to think outside the box?

We are working with a major financial company that also has an international TV station relating to financial information. We needed to come up with a methodology that would allow us to use eye tracking as a basis to understand what their watchers are paying attention to, realizing that these people are multitasking and that they are viewing multiple screens at one time. They are in a very dynamic environment.  How do you come up with a method that is going to get what you need out of it – that is going to be robust enough to have a really good clear answer, but also practical enough so that we can do it with a limited sample size? We are trying to find the right approach for that. 

And what have you found?

I do think that we have a good approach in working closely with the client on it.  We have eye tracking glasses so someone can wear those and they are wireless. They can wear those in any environment. If someone is sitting on a couch watching a TV station or, they are in front of their computer, we can track them wherever they are. We employ the glasses combined with the more traditional eye tracker to attach to the screen.

Where do you see the use of eye tracking going?

Eye tracking is being used in a wide range of applications in the user experience now and not just usability testing of websites. It is being used in evaluating video games, social media, optimizing form design, and web content.  I think eye tracking is will continue to be used in user experience but for broader applications.

We are using it a lot more now in mobile because that is obviously the direction that the web is going.  It allows us to understand where people are looking when using mobile apps and mobile websites on both Smartphones and tablets. Being able to do eye tracking and finding out how people are using those, which are definitely different from the desktop experience where you are paying attention on how you are using it, is valuable information.  It is a very different experience so we are getting some interesting eye tracking insights there but we are still learning. Mobile eye tracking is still in its infancy. The technology to perform on eye tracking of mobile devices is continually getting better and easier to perform.

How would you use the eye tracking on a mobile phone?

There are two ways of doing this.  One is on a mobile stand where the phone or the tablet sort of sits on it. That is great because it gives us really reliable results because it is on a stand. Unfortunately there is not a lot of freedom of movement. So the other option that is more natural for holding a mobile phone or device is where a person uses eye tracking glasses. They can be lying on the couch and using their phone or their tablet and we can get data that way.

Your CUA training was a while back; what has stayed with you over the years?

I did find the CUA course relevant to what I have done as a practitioner both at HFI and continuing beyond to my work here.  It was very relevant and practical. The core of it, as well as other uses whether it be for usability testing of a website, or a mobile product, or even things well beyond traditional digital stuff like websites, the same principles apply.  That was a major takeaway for me. I was most influenced by the usability testing course in that regard. The course covered aspects that help me think beyond just traditional usability testing and that there are a lot of other measurements that we could be applying both qualitatively and quantitatively.

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to

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