Two user experience researchers share on the Google Blog how their team conducted eye-tracking studies on the interface of Universal Search to gain insight into optimal information design. They write in their post:
Our User Experience Research team has found that people evaluate the search results page so quickly that they make most of their decisions unconsciously…. Of course, eye-tracking does not really tell us what they are thinking, but it gives us a good idea of which parts of the page they are thinking about.
It is particularly insightful to watch the real-time video of a user’s eye movements; one can really appreciate how little time users spend on each information or interaction element.
The researchers explain their motivation, expectations, and results of their study:
When designing the user interface for Universal Search, the team wanted to incorporate thumbnail images to better represent certain kinds of results… However, we were concerned that the thumbnail images might be distracting and disrupt the well-established order of result evaluation.
We ran a series of eye-tracking studies where we compared how users scan the search results pages with and without thumbnail images. Our studies showed that the thumbnails did not strongly affect the order of scanning the results and seemed to make it easier for the participants to find the result they wanted.
The thumbnail image seemed to make results with thumbnails easy to notice when the users wanted them… and the thumbnails also seemed to make it easy for people to skip over the results with thumbnails when those results were not relevant to their search (page with the thumbnail on the right).
In the accompanying images, we can see how users scan the page in an F patter and how most of the users’ attention focuses in the “golden triangle” in the upper left of the web page.