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Eye Tracking to Measure the Immeasurable

After gathering user needs and wants and incorporating those findings in new software design, interface designers face a final challenge: evaluating the design.

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The Human Centered Design (HCD) group at Emerson Process Management ran into a metrics stopper early in the evaluation phases of its HCD projects: how, exactly, do you measure the usability of software?

Granted, there were expert reviews, questionnaires based on paper graphical prototypes, and overall efficiency data—that is, how long it took test subjects to accomplish a task. But user effort, the group knew, was a key parameter, and the measurement of effort vis-à-vis software was a murky realm.

The team began creating a numerical basis for evaluation. Working with a research team from Texas State University, San Marcos, the HCD group aggregated data from well-known measures—mouse movement measured in “mickeys,” number of keystrokes—and from a less-common manifestation: eye movement.

Eye movement was recorded via a tracking device that follow a subject’s gaze by measuring the pupil in relation to the surrounding cornea. Depending on where a subject looks on an experimental software screen, the relationship of the two geometries changes, allowing tracking software to record where and how quickly the eye moves, and where and how long it dwells.

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