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Subject:Eye movement and web page layout? From:Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca> To:"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Sat, 20 Mar 2004 20:28:47 -0500
Jim Wulterkins wondered: <<I've been googling away for a while, trying
to find any studies that demonstrate how the eye moves around a Web
page when the page first loads. I have some vague memory of a study
showing that most "western people" (or whatever) start in the top left
corner, moves across the top of the page, down the right side, and end
up somewhere in the middle. I have another vague memory telling me that
the first thing the eye moves to is images, rather than text.>>
What you report is certainly "conventional wisdom", which means that
while it's likely to be true in general, there are a variety of other
factors that can affect the actual results. For example, if you load a
block of text at the bottom right corner of the screen, then delay
several seconds before loading an image just above and to the left of
that text, then the text will be seen (and read) first, followed by the
image. This is obviously the reverse pattern from the general rule.
If you display a moving image anywhere on the screen, it's going to
draw the eyes, possibly interfering with the "usual" pattern of eye
movement. (Which is why people who use animated GIFs and title crawls
purely because they can should be coated in maple syrup and staked out
over anthills. <g>) If people using a dial-up connection turn off the
display of images, then they won't look at images first--or possibly
ever. If your audience is blind, the sequence will be determined by how
their screen reader parses the page. And so on.
There's also the "learning" and "familiarity" factor. If you learn to
expect something in a specific location because "everyone does it", and
that one thing is what you're looking for, then you'll look right at
that location and ignore the rest of the display. Whether that location
is theoretically most efficient becomes less important than the fact
that people have learned to look in a specific place.* This is why most
sites now place the Search function at the top right or near the top
left of a page: that's where this function appears most often, and
designers take advantage of that familiarity.
* I recall reading some research--buried in the boxes resulting from
moving my office--that demonstrated that a navigation panel on the
right side of the screen was most efficient because (if memory serves)
it doesn't get in the way of the left to right reading of text. While
that may be true, it's such an unexpected location that I expect many
users would take some time getting used to the design, and might never
grow comfortable with it. When theory contradicts experience,
experience often wins.
<<I'm interested because I want to see what the relationship is between
my idea of good design and what research says is good design.>>
I recommend having a look at http://usability.gov/guidelines (the page
wasn't loading tonight when I tried to go there, likely due to a
problem with my ISP, so I can't confirm the URL). This site hosts the
results of guidelines based on an extensive review of the research
literature on Web design spearheaded by several STC members at the
National Cancer Institute. I attended their talk at last year's STC
convention in Dallas, and their study sounded very good indeed.
Basically what they did was examine a wide range of heuristics and
"best practices" guidelines that are commonly promoted, then had a
panel of experts (including several STC Fellows with impeccable
reputations in academic research) rate how well current research
supported the guidelines. The result was a series of guidelines, each
ranked by how reliable a guide it was based on the current state of our
knowledge. I liked the approach and the results (i.e., they confirmed
my prejudices and didn't cause me to overturn too many of my dearly
held beliefs). YMMV.
--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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