Eye tracking and Online Help
By Ultan O'Broin-Oracle on Nov 09, 2009
Recently, I had the opportunity to learn some new technical skills by helping out with an eye tracking study on an applications help system, still in development. Eye tracking is a powerful methodology for fine-tuning designs, and you can read more about its general use on the usableapps website.
I was particularly interested in understanding how different users might read our help topics. What can we conclude?
- Well, for a start, different people read different ways, so it's important in an online environment to have a holistically well structured help topic that caters for different approaches.
- Most users read the first paragraph closely, so using an abstract that gets the key information across is important, whereas others focused on titles (so they should be unique and descriptive), and a few read the entire topic (emphasizing that text should be clear, well structured, and to the point).
- The initial information and structure was critical. Users also liked to be active, clicking on mouse-overs and so on. Most of the research about how people read online (using an inverted pyramid style reflecting thoughts on 'writing for scanning', and so on) was borne out, though catch-all thoughts about the famous F-shaped style of reading generally were not!
Our Oracle Fusion Applications writing patterns for help topics and use of DITA XML schema in a structured authoring environment for the help lends itself to achieving just what online readers want in the final help topic.
By the way, blogger Floyd Teter joined us for some of the eye tracking study. You should read Floyd's observations on Oracle Open World 2009 and the Apps-UX team too! For more information on the Apps-UX's use of eye tracking, read the usableapps article What Your Eyes Tell User Experience Professionals About Design.