How eyetracking studies influence website design

Various eye tracking studies on how websites are viewed have been carried out over the years. Obviously our design studio are especially interested in the results of these studies as they can have a direct impact on effective website design. Clare, our Studio Manager, has put together a list of some of the more interesting results over the years…

I probably shouldn’t be saying this as a graphic designer but one of the most surprising results to me is that it is not always images or design that first catch people’s attention when they land on your home page! Of course it helps when a website is well designed and appealing to the eye and some people are more visual than others, but recent tracking studies show that it is text (usually in the form of headlines) that we are drawn to when we first visit a page. Apparently it takes people just a few seconds to scan a page and they will decide in that short time whether the information they want is available on the site they are visiting. So while it obviously helps that your site and your logo look good, if the information the visitor is expecting to find is not readily accessible they may move on and look eleswhere. Yes, we are a fickle bunch when it comes to surfing the net!!

It is well documented that when landing on a website for the first time our eyes usually focus on the upper left corner of the page. This is where I would almost always suggest a client puts their logo or any important information that they want a visitor to their site to know.

People almost always expect to see the website navigation bar along the top of the page and this is where their eyes next focus. I rarely suggest an alternative and always encourage giving the visitor to the site what they expect in this regard. If they find it hard to navigate the website they may give up and move on which is why I always like to use easy to follow buttons, menus and tabs that are not overly designed.

After the top left hand corner and the horizontal top of your page people’s eyes tend to scan the left hand side of the page from top to bottom. A list of important headlines or links you want people to click on should perhaps be put here. Some designers put the navigation bar here and it can work fine but my preference is to use this space for secondary information that is still important for your prospective client/customer to see.

White or light coloured backgrounds make reading text easier and also give the viewers eyes a little break! My websites tend to be simply designed in a way that best imparts the information our client wants to get across. The temptation to over design websites can sometimes be hard for me to resist but the main purpose of a website is to allow our clients to show potential customers/clients what they do in as short a time as possible. We need to catch the attention of the visitor almost immediately, make the site sticky and encourage the visitor to stay.

Knowing where people look when they land on a new website homepage for the first time undoubtedly has its benefits and definitely influences the way websites are designed. The challenge for me as a designer is to make sure that my website designs stand out from the rest but still allow my client’s message to come across loud and clear!

Posted by Clare Hogan on 1st February 2012