Eyetracking points the way to effective news article design

When one of world’s best-known usability experts, Jakob Nielsen, conducts eyetracking research to test what his usability work has shown, the results generate some beneficial tips for online editors. This is what happened in late 2005, when Nielsen and Tara Pernice Coyne, the Nielsen/Norman Group’s director of research, conducted an eyetracking test with 255 people in New York City.

With a little more than half of the participants (63 percent) ages 30 to 49, the test generated results applicable to the target audience for most news sites. Additionally, 20 percent were 18-29 and 16 percent were 50-64. Fifty-eight percent were female, 42 percent were male. Every test subject was given 50 tasks to complete. Sessions with each test subject lasted about one to two hours.

Coyne (who we interviewed for this column) stresses that crucial to understanding the testing results is an awareness of the user’s motivation or goal behind each task. Some of the testing scenarios included asking the user to "read the news" or "read/learn", making a number these results particularly helpful to journalists. She said eyetracking is valuable in these cases because it indicates not only where our users look, but where key usability problems exist.

"[With eyetracking] we can see that a user may navigate the page of an interface that houses the info she wants," she said, "but if the text is poorly presented, or the navigation is cluttered, or there are too many superfluous images so she cannot easily find what she needs. This is a lost opportunity."

We’ve featured three of the more interesting journalistic study results below. (more… )