When you pull up a website, what's the first thing you look at? The stock photo model splashed across the page? The large company logo at the top? The search bar?
EyeQuant, a German artificial intelligence software company that offers predictive eye-tracking for websites, is in the business of figuring out exactly what people will look at when the page loads. Results from the company's most recent study suggests that some of the conventional wisdom in web design, like that our attention is drawn to faces, might not always be correct.
The 46-person study was designed to help EyeQuant improve its internal algorithms that predict where people look on their clients’ sites. The study subjects, who came into a neuroscience lab at the University of Osnabrueck in Germany, looked at a total of 200 product and landing pages with the intent to buy things like new Levi's jeans, a TV from Target or a weekend trip to Paris. The resulting heatmaps show where people fixed their gaze the most. The average “fixation” lasted around 15 seconds. What they found:
Humans love to look at faces, even in inanimate objects that don’t have them. Designers tend to direct users' attention to important text by placing the text in the line of sight of the person in the photograph, with the thought that you’ll want to look at whatever it is that person is looking at. This study found that people were more likely to look at a website’s headline text or a search bar than the faces prominently displayed on the page.
Participants didn’t look at huge typography, even when it was advertising a sale. Instead, they looked at relatively smaller fonts on the page. When looking at English Proofread, a copyediting service, for example, users ignored the company name taking up most of the left side of the page in favor of slightly smaller subheadlines. (They were still larger than the main body text.)
Everyone loves free stuff, right? They may not look at the word free as much as we think, though. On sites that advertised a free product or free shipping, people were more likely to look at the product descriptions, or in one case, definitely the Victoria’s Secret model’s boobs.
Users who already knew what they wanted to buy tended not to look at the branding elements of a page, like the company logo. “Users ignore a lot of the branding on these landing pages,” EyeQuant co-founder and CEO Fabian Stelzer tells Co.Design. “They really want to find the elements that get their job done.”
Now, 46 people isn’t a huge sample, statistically speaking, but many previous studies of eye-tracking have explored how people look at websites in the context of finding information—like figuring out what the site is all about, or reading an article. This hints that when people shop for something specific, they may see a little differently.
“Human creativity is considered to be this holy space where data can’t help us, but I think that’s not true,” Stelzer says. “Data shows us the common sense, rules of thumb about how things work… and should be taken with a grain of salt.”