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Eye Tracking Your Mobile User Experience

eye tracking / research design / user experience / usability / blog

Mobile devices are transforming how we use technology. Pew Research Center reported in June, 2013 that 56% of all US adults own a smartphone (1), and that number is only expected to increase in the years to come. As a result of increased ownership, there has been a surge in usage of mobile versus desktop computers for exploring online everyday needs – from checking email and social media, to shopping, banking, document creation, and socializing. For example, Pew also reported that 32% of US adults now bank using their mobile phones (2). As a result, the usability of mobile platforms and applications is more important than ever as people rely on their handheld device.

For the average mobile user, even after becoming comfortable using a smaller keypad and screen size, the experience of navigating the web is far different from a standard computer. As user experience experts, it’s our job to pinpoint the key areas that cause the most frustration and examine users as they perform everyday tasks. For example, the lower pointing accuracy of a fingertip compared to that of a mouse can cause a number of problems when clicking through a site to login or view a new page. And the smaller size of a mobile screen adds additional concerns for the user. These issues should be thought-out by the designer to ensure that the interface isn’t cluttered with unnecessary information or advertisements.

At FMG, we’ve tested a variety of applications and responsive designs on mobile and tablet devices with users. While we’ve used a number of methods to test, one of our favorite methods is eye tracking because it provides an additional level of insight we otherwise wouldn’t have from watching users or listening to their responses. With eye tracking, even when a user can’t articulate the confusing components of a mobile interface, we are able to follow their visual pattern to see where they became confused and how much effort they put into trying to find the right solution. In most cases, mobile apps and websites are often very linear – one button leads to another button and to another button until the content or feature is reached. When a user is uncertain of what to do next when using a mobile device, their eyes typically search the entire screen looking for the next action, as shown on the right. In this gaze plot from a recent mobile device usability test, the participant searched the screen after the error message appeared, looking for that next button, and they searched tirelessly to find it. This proved to be a frustrating experience, and eye-tracking data backed up what we observed during testing – that the user could not find the button to advance.

Hi MeganMobile user experiences differ across devices and these differences can introduce unique issues. In a recent study, we used eye tracking in the user experience evaluation of a mobile product that had several versions (i.e., iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone, web version on a tablet). The eye tracking allowed us to observe how participants’ eye gazes varied depending on the different versions of the product that they used. For example, when participants were entering information on the iPhone and iPad on a particular task, they had access to a piece of information that they had entered previously. Eye tracking confirmed that having this information was useful, because eye tracking showed us that they often looked at this area on the page. When participants used the Android and web versions of the product, we observed them often clicking back to the previous page to reference the information they had previously entered. Eye tracking therefore drove our decision to recommend that the Android and web versions of the product be similar to the iOS version in this regard.

The technology for eye tracking of mobile devices is rapidly improving and is at a point where we can use it to produce reliable findings with mobile device testing. Until recently, eye tracking was limited to the testing of designs on desktop monitors. And now participants can interact with smartphones and tablets during testing while their eyes are tracked (as shown to the right) without the need of wearing headgear or goggles, which was the case just a few years ago. This is a massive improvement in the technology, and we only expect the improvements to continue. Look for more on this topic in the mobile device chapter (3) of the Eye Tracking in User Experience, due out in the spring.

  3. He, J., Siu, C., Strohl, J. & Chaparro, B. (2014). Mobile. In J. Romano Bergstrom & A. Schall (Eds.), Eye Tracking in User Experience Design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
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