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Web Usability: Eye-tracking & Face-reading

Source: Unknown, 13 May 2013

Web usability is about the ease of locating, using, and acting upon information on an internet page. In principle, the design of webpages - enterprise or consumer - should allow the end-user to interact intuitively with the website.

The perceived complexity of the page is a challenging concept to quantify. Researchers use the following factors to define how easy or difficult is to navigate through the website:

(a) the number, dissimilarity and fragmentation of elements;

(b) density and the layout of visual stimuli;

(c) the task contexts (e.g. reading, searching and buying products).

Those elements can be measured with a questionnaire, simply by asking people what they consciously think. Nevertheless, questionnaires are not that refined and predictive as other approaches. Until now, the eye tracker was one of the best tools to analyze the behavioral reactions to webpage complexity. Recently researchers started to employ another measure - face-reading, i.e. the automatic ana lysis of facial expressions of emotions - to capture additional underlying patterns of autonomous human behavior.

Researchers from Oracle America, Inc. during the 56th Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in October 2012, Boston, USA

  1. presented research combining all three measurement tools - questionnaires, eye tracking, and face-reading - to measure webpage complexity. A questionnaire is a verbal self-report: subjective, self-conscious, and involves higher-order thinking; as a result it is difficult to assess spontaneous behavior to the presented stimuli. Eye tracking is a reliable, widely used tool to measure people's attention and cognitive load while they are interacting with the product or service. However, eye tracking alone cannot predict the affective state of the user. The researchers used the Tobii® T60 eye tracker
  2. to establish the (a) time to first fixation; (b) fixation duration; (c) search area. They found that the pages rated as higher in clarity involved smaller search areas (c) and greater fixation duration (b). Therefore, more time spent looking into one element that does not take much effort to be localized, might be beneficial for the perceived ease of use of the website. To validate those findings additionally, the researchers from Oracle America, Inc. used FaceReader™
  3. - a computer software automatically analyzing emotional valence from facial expressions. The program synthesizes a 3D real-time, artificial face model with over 500 facial feature locations. Then the 3-layer neural network - previously fed with thousands pictures of facial expressions - assigns a probabilistic result of presence of basic emotions and then computes overall emotional valance.

The researchers found out that as little as 5-10 seconds of capturing facial reactions to interaction with the webpage correlates significantly with the subjective impressions of its complexity. The scientists say that the eye-tracking (e.g. Tobii T60) and face-reading (e.g. FaceReader) technologies are becoming more ubiquitous and soon will be part of every-day interaction with the electronic devices. However, further research is needed in order to improve scalability, efficiency, reliability, portability, and energy-efficiency of those solutions, before they become commonly used measures. For now, these state-of-the-art technologies are mostly used by research institutes and marketing companies that invest in innovation and development.

By Peter Lewinski PhD Candidate - Amsterdam School of Communication Research, UvA Marie Curie Research Fellow - Vicarious Perception Technologies, B.V. Early Stage Researcher - CONsumer COmpetence Research Training, FP7

  1. Goldberg, J.H. (2012). Relating perceived web page complexity to emotional valence and eye movement metrics. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 56th Annual Meeting, 501-505.
  2. http://www.tobii.com/en/ eye-tracking-research/global/products/hardware/tobii-t60t120-eye-tracker/
  3. www.noldus.com/facereader

FaceReader and Eyetracking for use in Web usability