28 October 2010

Eye tracking

The skeptical poster maker reading this blog might say, “But this design stuff... well, it’s all a bit... loosey-goosey, innit?

“Even you yourself ‘ave said that some of the stuff designers say doesn’t stand up. Like the idea that it’s easier to read lowercase because of the shape of the words.”

You want research? Okay, here’s some research on how people read large pages that combine text and images. These are newspapers, not posters, but there’s little doubt that the two are fairly similar reading tasks. Some key findings from older studies:

  • Photos attracted attention. ... Color was a powerful tool that pulled the eye toward various parts of a page(.)
  • Eyes followed a common pattern of navigation. The majority of readers entered all pages through the dominant photo or illustration, then traveled to the dominant headline, then to teasers and cutlines, and finally to text.
  • Images were viewed more than text. Photos and artwork were looked at the most, followed by headlines and advertising, then briefs and cutlines. Text was read the least.

There are also more recent studies that look more at websites, but these also confirm some of the basic design ideas I’ve blogged about here.

  • Alternative story forms (including Q&As, timelines, lists and fact boxes) helped readers remember facts.
  • Large photos and documentary photos drew more eyes than small photos or staged photos. Mug shots received relatively little attention.

Now, you might kvetch that I’m not linking to peer-reviewed journals, but there are similar things in peer reviewed papers, like those listed in the references below. A quick peek at Holmqvist and Wartenberg (2005) reveals, for example, the number one factor that influences what people look at first and how long they stay looking at something?

Large size.

So make everything bigger, blast you!

It probably is the case that private companies are doing a lot of reports that are maybe not making it into the traditional academic literature. A lot of this kind of research seems to be in conference proceedings, which I understand is more traditional method of publication for engineering and the like.

Lots of interesting reading on what makes something readable and memorable!

Related papers

Chu S, Paul N, Ruel L. 2009. Using eye tracking technology to examine the effectiveness of design elements on news websites. Information Design Journal 17(1): 31-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/idj.17.1.04chu

Holmqvist K, Wartenberg C. 2005. The role of local design factors for newspaper reading behaviour – an eye-tracking perspective. Lund University Cognitive Studies 127: 1-21. http://www.lucs.lu.se/LUCS/127/LUCS.127.pdf

Hat tip to Ben Goldacre.


Mike Pascoe said...


See my post from 2008 on this very topic, including fancy videos of my own eyes scanning my own poster at an eye-tracking vendor at the SfN meeting in 2008:

Optimizing SfN Poster Design Using Eye Tracking Software

I'll be sure to have a look at the above listed studies!

- Mike

Zen said...

Excellent! Now that your post has twigged me to it, surely there must be an opportunity for someone to do real, original research on academic posters using this technology.