GEOG 583
Geospatial System Analysis and Design

Technology Trends: Eye Tracking


Eye tracking is a technology that is becoming more and more popular for use in software evaluations. Eye tracking makes use of infrared and other types of sensors to detect and track where a user looks while working. Modern eye tracking equipment can be mounted underneath the computer screen to face the user, or can come in head-mounted configurations. Eye tracking studies typically involve task analysis of one type or another, with the goal of capturing what users saw while they were completing their work. Analysis of eye tracking data can reveal which parts of an interface a person spent the most time using, which parts they missed entirely, and which areas of an analytical graphic were studied the most to inform analytical conclusions.

One challenge associated with eye tracking is that it generates a tremendous volume of data in a very short amount of time, so often there is substantial effort involved with analyzing the results of eye tracking studies. Using eye tracking along with other common usability methods (talk aloud protocols in particular) is quite popular, as eye tracking can provide insight into what someone was looking at, while verbal reports and other methods can reveal what the user was thinking at the time.

The first video I'd like you to look at, Eye Tracking Demo, is a short demonstration on how eye tracking works and what some of the common outputs look like (2:14).

Click for Transcript of Eye Tracking Video

Do you know what your users are looking at?

Our specialists at eye tracking services allow you to climb inside users’ heads and see your designs through their eyes. Are they noticing the critical elements? Is the design efficient? Are users concentrating on the content or are they distracted? We can tell you this and more.

So, what does an eye-tracking session look like? Here’s a user interacting with a website. The blue dots show his eye fixations while the connecting blue lines illustrate his eye movements. This information shows us where he looks, what he pays the most attention to, and most importantly what he misses.

Watching a user in real time is interesting, but the speed of movement makes it hard to keep track of what users see and what they miss. That's why we produce an individual session map at the end of each session to show the sum total of all their visual activity. Each numbered circle represents a point that the user’s eyes fixated on. The larger the circle, the longer the fixation. A series of erratic eye movements suggest that a user was confused by a disorganized layout, while a series of controlled movements show that a user was reading. The density of these movements helps us to establish their level of concentration and comprehension.

Once all users have been through the process we turn the results into heat maps. Heat maps are perhaps the most revealing of all the outputs from an eye-tracking study. While session maps tell you a lot about the behavior of an individual user, a heat map shows you the behavior of an entire group of people. Heat maps use a graded color scheme to show visual activity. Warmer colors reveal areas that most users looked at while colder colors show areas that few users noticed. Black reveals areas that no one looked at.

In this particular example you can see that no one noticed the $4.99 DVD sale despite its size and vibrant colors. This type of information is invaluable whether you're pulling together a new design or simply evaluating an existing one.

Unlike conventional eye tracking solutions our system doesn't require users to wear any complicated devices like helmets or special eye wear. In fact, the whole system is virtually invisible keeping users at ease throughout the process. To learn more about eye tracking and other user experience services visit us on the web at

Next, I'd like you to look at another short video, Tobii Usability Eye Tracking, describing how eye tracking can be used specifically for usability studies (1:57). Both videos this week are from marketing materials, so keep that in mind as you watch.

Click for Transcript of Tobii Eye Tracking Video

What's your method for uncovering the largest number usability problems? How much true user experience can you capture without distorting the user's reactions?

If you want to capture real user experience and uncover more usability problems in less time, please take a moment to watch this one minute message from Tobii technology, the world leader in eye-tracking. We’ll give you a new perspective on eye tracking that goes beyond heat maps and gaze plots. It goes right to the heart of usability testing.

In 2007 Lancaster University researchers published a comparison of usability methodologies. They compared first the concurrent think aloud method with the task an interview take place at the same time. Second, screen recording cued retrospective think aloud where the participant looks at a replay of the task simulator interview. And third, gaze replay cued retrospective think aloud where we play eye gaze patterns on top of the task recording which helps a participant remember during a later interview.

These researchers found that using eye-tracking helps uncover a significantly greater number of usability problems, and that by using eye-tracking participants complete significantly more tasks than using the standard think aloud methodology: seventy-nine percent versus forty-two percent. This shows that the standard think aloud methodology changes user behavior and thus can change the outcome of the task.

There is only one conclusion. Eye-tracking lets you uncover more usability problems without disturbing natural user behavior. Tobii technology is the first company to present an eye tracking solution that supports one of the most effective usability methodologies there is. Gaze replay cued retrospective think aloud. Contact us now to arrange a real demonstration and experience the difference.

If this kind of stuff is interesting to you, you may wish to check out a short paper on eye-tracking research for designing geovisualization tools that was recently published by me (Anthony Robinson) and a colleague in Australia, Dr. Amy L. Griffin. We've been using an eye-tracking system to compare two different methods for visually highlighting observations in coordinated-view mapping tools.

Deliverables for this week's technology trend

  1. Post a comment in the Lesson 9 Technology Trends Discussion in Canvas that describes how you could envision using or incorporating eye-tracking in the evaluation of GIS systems. What unique capabilities does it offer, and what sort of evaluations do you think it would best support?
  2. Then, I'd like you to offer additional insight, critique, a counter-example, or something else constructive in response to one of your colleagues' posts.
  3. Brownie points for linking to other technology demos, pictures, blog posts, etc., that you've found to enrich your posts so that we may all benefit.