EyeTrackUX 2011 – London

I sneaked out of a very busy SimpleUsability office in Leeds to attend the annual eye tracking user experience conference organised by Tobii. This year saw it hosted in London, which was a bit of contrast to some of the more glamorous locations of previous years. I do hope it’s held in a more desirable and warmer surroundings next year, such as Barcelona – which seemed a popular suggestion from the attendees I polled.

I attended once again as a speaker; and also took a seat on the expert panel. I’m not going to blog about every presentation – just the two that left me smiling the most.

The conference launched with a fabulous keynote from Aga Bojko, “Fluffy Bunnies or Research Apocalypse?”

Aga expertly used Prezi to get her message across about where eye tracking was heading and who was entering the market. I was pleased to finally get some data on webcam eye tracking, which suggested

  • only 55% of a sample would provide valid data for analysis,
  • systems offered 1 to 5 degrees of accuracy from a stationary head (5 degrees is a massive issue)
  • a hugely variable sample rate of 5 to 30Hz.

Overall this means webcam eye tracking is only detecting approximate gaze points instead of accurate fixations in sessions of just 5 minutes. No real surprises there, but it was great to hear somebody finally talking detail on this evolving/contentious approach to data collection. Aga then went on to destroy the validity of mouse eye tracking and then bust the myth of visual attention prediction services, like fengui, that people like to tweet about (Some of Aga’s examples are shown here). She rounded off the first half of her talk by asking what eye tracking people are doing about all this stuff, because it has the potential to undermine the quality of work carried out by the people attending the conference.

After a pause, a warmed up Aga proposed that researchers should stop hyping eye tracking and focus on doing actionable research with their eye trackers.  To do this, she started by busting the prevalent myth that 30 users are needed for eye tracking studies. After reminding people where this crazy figure of ’30 users’ came from, Aga recommended that practitioners needed to be more scientific in their approach to choosing sample size, using recognised calculations that take into account problem discoverability and your research aims. Jeff Sauro has a created an online calculator that simply does the maths for you at:


There was a lot more to Aga’s talk than I’ve covered and she finished with an overview of what she meant by making research actionable.

I was impressed and happy; the person writing the book about a topic I feel so passionately about, really gets it and also cares. Huge panic over, I too can now sleep at night. It was a good wake-up call for many in the room and I think a few cages were positively rattled.

My second smiley talk was from Charlotte van Dael, “Eyetracking out there”.

I loved this talk because it was about getting out of the lab to meet users on their ground and the reality of what that actually involves. She shared lots of tips about how you go about conducting studies in the field. SimpleUsability do a mix of lab and field based testing, so much of what Charlotte talked about was familiar. A useful takeaway for me was a suggestion for using wireless transmitters for getting audio into the observation room when off-site.

I think what made me smile most was the reaction of the room to this approach – it seemed like it was something that many hadn’t considered or thought was possible. In wrapping up, Charlotte also took the opportunity to give some feedback to Tobii about their product and some requests.

Over the two days, we got the chance to see lots of different approaches, play with new eye tracking accessories and hear about new services. I was disappointed to find out that Tobii are launching an insight service – you can now rent an eye tracker with a Tobii researcher to drive it. Whilst they claim that it’s not in competition with research companies, I feel it’s the thin end of the wedge and a move that will upset customers.  This does mean that Tobii get to ‘eat their own dog food’, and maybe we’ll see some productivity and reliability changes to Tobii Studio based on feedback from Tobii researchers using systems in commercial research.

Tobii also announced their involvement in developing webcam based eye tracking services. This seemed a strange thing to do, as I thought Tobii wasn’t involved in webcam services.

As always at EyeTrackUX, met lots of new people, informally benchmarked our services against peer offerings, had some great conversations and have returned to the office inspired on a number of levels.

I’m already looking forward to (Barcelona) next year.

Written by Guy in: eye tracking | Tags: , , ,

SimpleUsability lead the field with running first ever consumer retail research project using the new Tobii Eye Tracking Glasses.

Eye tracking glassesObserving the consumer’s subconscious making decisions in supermarkets.

It’s been over two years since we were first told about a top secret product that Tobii’s R&D team were working on; eye tracking glasses with all the technology hidden from the wearer. I think the exact phrase used was “think Oakley’s meet James Bond”.

To date, all of the wearable/head mounted eye tracking equipment that we have experienced has been a bit cumbersome, with invasive head mounted equipment that usually relied on the participant carrying a laptop with them in a rucksack. The new glasses from Tobii change all of this. They are discrete and simple to use.

Tobii confirmed that SimpleUsability is the first company in the world to have used the new system for consumer research, out in the field, conducting shopping research in supermarkets across the UK. The new lightweight system comprises of a pair of trendy looking glasses and a small recording device that’s similar in size to a portable hard drive.

As a business we pride ourselves in conducting eye tracking studies that observe natural behaviour with minimal research effect. Head mounted eye tracking can be quite invasive – either asking the user to wear a cap or glasses with cameras mounted at the front, constantly reminding the user that they are being monitored. We found that research participants were more than happy to wear the glasses, which meant they naturally got on with their shopping.

To date, we’ve run a number of studies studies with the glasses for both actual in-store shopping and simulated in-store, where shoppers walked up and down projected fixture concepts. The SimpleUsability team are exceptionally happy with the system. The participant simply puts the glasses on, we quickly calibrate, press record, then clipped the recorder to their belt or bag and then sent them off to shop. Takes no more than a few minutes.

Once the shoppers returned from their shop, we just took out the memory card and with a few clicks imported the recording into Tobii Studio. It’s so simple. It usually only took a few minutes to import 45 minutes of eye tracking, allowing us to quickly get on with conducting an in-depth review of the  shopping trip with the shopper.

The big advantages this system has over other wearable eye trackers are:

  • Size and weight – it’s really portable and unobtrusive
  • No crazy head gear or cap – shoppers don’t want to wear caps or funny looking technology on their head. The Tobii system is just like wearing glasses and carrying a video iPod.
  • Great workflow – out in the field you need something that just works and makes sense.

We believe this is going to turn consumer research on it’s head. In the short time we’ve been using the glasses, we’ve learned a huge amount of detail about how the subconscious really makes decisions when out shopping. It’s a well known fact that over 60% percent of human behaviour is automatic and we find that eye tracking is the least intrusive way to observe it.

We will write some more articles about the Tobii eye tracking glasses soon and release some footage from our in-store research.


ThinkVisibility 2 – my review

guy-chainsawA few weekends ago I attended the second ThinkVisibility Conference, organised by Dom at Build Events and sponsored by Al Carlton at Conference Calendar. I spoke at the first conference in March 2009, so it was nice to attend without the pressure of being on stage soon. I’m not a huge conference follower, but ThinkVisibility is a unique format that ticks enough boxes for me to attend. It’s hosted on a weekend, so it’s pretty much frequented by those that have a deep interest in the area – no corporate day trippers. Once again, Dom managed to pull together a collection of speakers that, once into the afternoon streams, made it difficult to choose from – all good speakers, with different things to say. The main differentiator that ThinkVisibility has over other conferences is the attitude of attendees and their desire to share more than they normally would. Some speakers embraced this unwritten concept more than others.

venueThere were some big changes when comparing this ThinkVisibility to the first one. The new venue was a huge improvement; it reflected the high quality of talks been given and the layout encouraged some good informal networking. The PA system worked flawlessly and having three theatres in the afternoon was a stroke of genius.

Friday afternoon
domI attended the complimentary talk on Friday given by Tim Nash on behavioural targeting. Once attendees had turned up, Tim delivered a buoyant introduction to user segmentation based on their behaviour. It was interesting to watch how the room got to grips with the concept and then Tim showed us some examples of how people are using this on sites through a feature of CSS. In a nutshell, there’s some code that uses the colour of visited links to understand if a user has visited a site before. From this, you can infer many things, like if a visitor has a PayPal account or guess their gender. I scored a 53% chance of being male based on my history – but I’m fairly careful with the browser history on a work pc. There was a quick discussion about whether the colour of buttons has an impact on the effectiveness of a site. Some people had tested different colours and felt that some colours performed better than others. I feel it’s a lot more complex than single colours outperforming others, with contrast and context being key considerations. There’s a growing amount of info available on persuasion architecture, and I’m lucky enough to be working at the cutting edge with our behavioural research at SimpleUsability. It was a good start to the conference.

Friday night
Al CarltonI had the pleasure of sitting with Julian Shambles from the telegraph and Al Carlton of Conference Calendar. Julian kept us entertained with some informal banter about user generated content on the telegraph website. We adjourned upstairs to the Skylounge at City Inn for a few beers where I chatted with a few new and familiar faces. Highlight of the evening was chatting about the gold recycling industry.

yoastI’d never heard of Joost de Valk – so I didn’t know what to expect. His talk was fab. He rattled through his views and understandings on some pretty heavy subjects like page caching and content delivery networks. His style was great. It was like listening to somebody from Nasa just chatting generally about the issues we all face when building rockets and flying to the moon, in a way that made you realise we are all building rockets. Really useful stuff delivered in a very humble manner. Possibly the highlight of my day.

Next up was Julian from the Telegraph, who gave a more formal overview of how the telegraph is growing, playing catch up to the more established online players. Julian offered us all an open invitation to pop in next time we’re down in London, which is pretty cool.

Judith Lewis then gave a talk on Maximising Universal Search. Another speaker I had no real former knowledge of, apart from her pre-conference tweets about not wanting to share slides. I was expecting some real gems of knowledge to be shared, as previous speakers like Dave Naylor had done. This was not the case and Judith delivered a very good SEO training presentation which was well received by the floor – but was not really why I attend ThinkVisibility. Judith also presented a few slides with the infamous (and flawed) eye tracking F-pattern on it. I hate the f-pattern and smiled as Fiona was next on, ‘de-bunking the f-pattern’.

Over lunch there was a candid ‘ask the panel’ session which was really entertaining.

fionaLunch was followed by my colleague, Fiona talking about the behavioural research we carry out at SimpleUsability. This was my biggest dilemma of the day – I also wanted to watch Elaine and Dave from All Kids in another theatre, but Fiona won my eyes and ears. As ever, Fiona confidently presented to a busy room of people, sharing her enthusiasm for eye tracking. Fiona shared some footage from the research we carry out, giving the audience access to some major insights about how the F-pattern doesn’t really exist and the truth about how people really engage with websites.

I then went to watch Chris Clarkson lead us through his wild journey as a successful affiliate. Chris’s talk, in my eyes, was pretty much what ThinkVisbility is about for me. He shared a lot of experiences, some of them quite sobering, in a casually confident manner. I learnt some really cool stuff.

The penultimate talk was from Karyn Fleeting on corporate blogging. Her talk was good and my second Prezi presentation of the day. She was a little uncomfortable with the video camera recording but kept the pace up and shared many insights. It was refreshing to hear somebody in Karyn’s space actually understanding the medium of blog.

arturLast talk of the day was from Artur Ortega about how accessibility has driven innovation in everyday items we take for granted. Artur’s a great presenter and the topic was interesting. I was hoping that Artur was going to demonstrate some of the tech he uses, as at previous events, some of the audience had queried the business case for accessible code and I’ve always found that watching somebody use assistive technology makes it more real to the doubters.

benny-to-yorkAt the end of the conference, we lead a human train back across Leeds to the City Inn. After completing an hour of work with Fiona in the reception, we had a few drinks with conference attendees. Whilst I could have drunk all night, I had to leave early. Sunday morning saw me heading down south to pick up a new husky puppy to add to our gang.

A big thank you to Dom and the team and the sponsors for another ThinkVisbility. Credit goes to sk8geek for some great photos. 

I just wish the Eye Tracking conferences we attend were that insightful.

Written by Guy in: Cosmic | Tags: , , , ,