Eyetracking points the way to effective news article design


When one of world’s best-known usability experts, Jakob Nielsen, conducts eyetracking research to test what his usability work has shown, the results generate some beneficial tips for online editors. This is what happened in late 2005, when Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne, the Nielsen/Norman Group’s director of research, conducted an eyetracking test with 255 people in New York City.

…”[With eyetracking] we can see that a user may navigate the page of an interface that houses the info she wants,” she said, “but if the text is poorly presented, or the navigation is cluttered, or there are too many superfluous images so she cannot easily find what she needs.

…What if you could engage users in a story for about half the time, yet have them remember about 34 percent more of the content?

…Users spent a longer amount of time (about one minute) viewing the original version of the content (left) but remembered 34 percent less than those who received the reformatted story (right).

…Coyne’s direct advice for online journalists includes making sure that no matter what, all pages and articles have clear well-written headlines at the top that users can scan to:

…”Without [good headlines and subheadlines] people … need to read the text to figure out what the article is about,” she said.

…”Assume people will only read the first few words of a line,” she said, “so bulleted lists are always good, as is bolding or creating links from important, information-bearing words.”

…The hotspot below shows that the image of the train did not get eye fixations and that users eyes traveled around the page – not directly to the “top stories,” which is where the site’s news is located.

…As indicated above in Featured Finding #1, users will read only the two-to-three words of a headline (a result that also was found in Poynter’s Eyetrack III study, http://poynter.org/eyetrack and seen in the hotspots from the first Digital Storytelling Effects Lab’s initial study, http://disel-project.org.)

…”But, users who are very interested in an article will read through it, even if it is presented as a wall of text.

…Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face.

…When choosing between equally informative photos of people, be sure to use ones of “real” people, smiling, looking at the camera — not models which tend to been seen as photos accompanying ads.

…Perhaps a corollary is called-for to what scientist Svent-Gyorski once wrote (“a ‘substance’ is that which, when injected into an animal, produces a paper”), which might go thus: “when research might produce happier readers and more retained information and produce more dollars per view, a technology will be developed that will quantitate ‘practical reason’ and avoid at all costs ‘art’.”

…I don’t think “areas of private anatomy” is an especially apt term, considering that it’s not terribly private on animals, and it’s not that precise on humans.

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