Sunday, November 05, 2006

Eyetracking of Forms: should we accept the Conclusions?

Caution when applying results of eye tracking studies ...

"For ages, I've longed to do some eyetracking experiments on how users look at forms. And recently, I've been delighted to see the next best thing: excellent work by Matteo Penzo and his team.

Matteo's first article, "Evaluating the Usability of Search Forms Using Eyetracking: A Practical Approach",, reported on experiments where they tracked the eye movements of users interacting with search forms. Matteo found that:

'Form labels help rookie and intermediate users, who look for such labels when trying to locate a site’s search interface. These users expect input field labels to be at the left of the search form. Pro users don’t need and won’t use these labels, which are simply invisible to them.'

His point about form labels confirmed something
that I'd suspected for years, and happened again recently in a usability test. The prototype site that I was testing had a link to search instead of a search box, and user after user (all 'pro users' in Matteo's classification) simply didn't find it when they wanted it. They were looking for 'the box for me to type into' and the search link didn't do it for them. It wasn't a major usability failure because, as pro users, they all scanned around the page until they tracked it down. But it definitely caused them a break in the flow of the task.

Matteo found that drop-downs tend to grab users' attention: 'Drop-down lists are very eye catching form elements. You should always consider very carefully whether you should include a drop-down list in a search form. Use a drop-down list only if no alternative element would serve its purpose as well. Maintain adequate distance between the drop-down list and other elements in the search form. In general, if you want to create a simple search form that is easy to use for even novice users, avoid using drop-down lists in the form, because they tend to cognitively overload users.'

It's interesting to find another argument that urges caution in the use of drop-downs. A few years ago, I co-authored an article on whether to use a drop-down on forms in general: . At that time, drop-downs were widely touted as the simplest method of input for users, and were used somewhat indiscriminately. Since then, web form designers have become somewhat more skilled and thoughtful and it's been a while since I've seen a real drop-down horror story (although I'm always keen to add to my library of examples)."    (Continued via Usability News)    [Usability Resources]


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