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Eye Tracking for Forms and Surveys - Not Always a Good Idea

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Eye tracking is getting to be more and more popular and easy to use in usability testing. The eye-tracking technology is getting smaller, more affordable, and easier to use, and with these changes, more and more clients are eager to incorporate it into their UX work. But it is not always a useful methodology, especially when we are testing forms and surveys, where participants may look away while they are filling in their responses. In a recent book chapter in Eye Tracking in User Experience Design(1), Caroline Jarrett and I explore what eye tracking can tell us about the user experience of forms and surveys. We also discuss when eye tracking is appropriate and when it can be misleading. Here I share some of this valuable insight to help you decide if including eye tracking in your forms or survey UX research is a good idea or not.

When we are considering whether or not to use eye tracking, we have to think about two components: where participants’ eyes are (their gaze), and where their minds are (their attention). To have useful eye-tracking data, we want to track when both the participants’ gaze and attention are on the form/survey. For example, in Figure 1, the participant is asked to provide an email address. This information is easily accessible to the person – they can easily recall their email address and enter it on the screen. The eye-tracking data will be valid because the participant is looking where they are attending.

Eye Tracking Fors Marsh Group

Compare this to the participant in Figure 2. Here, the participant is required to look away from the screen to find their PIN on a paper that was sent to them. For these “gathered answers,” participants must look away from the form or survey to find the information they need to enter in the form or survey. This does not necessarily mean that the eye-tracking data is poor, it just means that when we analyze the data, we have to pay attention to these points in time when it may appear that the eye tracker lost the person’s eyes, when in fact, they looked away.

Eye Tracking

Now let’s consider two types of form/survey items for which eye tracking is not very good for. Figure 3 displays “created answers,” and Figure 4 displays “third-party answers.” In both of these cases, the participant’s attention is away from the screen. For third-party answers, the gaze is also away from the screen, so we would have no eye-tracking data at all. Not very useful, is it? Probably the worst case is created answers, where the participant’s gaze is at the screen, and the eye-tracking data may appear to be useful, but their attention is elsewhere. Imagine if your eyes were being tracked and you got a phone call – the tracker will still track your eyes but you are not actually “seeing” the information on the screen because your attention is on your phone call.

Eye Tracking Eye Tracking

Seems obvious, right? What gets tricky is that many forms and surveys that we test include a combination of all these types of questions/answers. This does not mean that you should not use eye tracking. What it means is that you will not have good eye-tracking data for those created answers and third-party answers, and the UX Team will have to do a lot of extra work to ensure that the data from the gathered answers is valid. If your form or survey requires mostly slot-in answers, then you have nothing to worry about! You can certainly use eye tracking to better understand what gathers users’ attention and the order in which people process information.

Not sure if eye tracking is right for your project? Be sure to read the chapter that Caroline and I wrote, or email me and let’s chat!

  1. Jarrett, C. & Romano Bergstrom, J. C. (2014). Forms and Surveys. In J. Romano Bergstrom & A. Schall (Eds.), Eye Tracking in User Experience Design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.

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