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Eye-Tracking in Website Design – Seeing in to the future!

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Infrared Eye TrackingImagine you could control your smartphone or laptop with a glance, or a blink of your eyes.  While this may seem like something from a sci-fi movie, it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

In fact it’s already happening.

The research and development of eye-tracking has been gathering pace over the last few years, and it’s already in use on numerous devices in military and medical equipment.  The breakthrough has been to make it work in the day to day bustle of everyday life on smaller consumer devices like smartphones and laptops.



The Techie Bit

So how does it actually work?

Three elements are needed to make the wizadry work, a light, a camera and some fairly sophisticated software.   When you look at a device it will shine a light in to your eyes, usually infrared so you’re not even aware of it, and the camera will detect the reflected light from the pupil of your eye.  The direction of the reflected light is then calculated, and the position of the spot on the screen that you’re looking at is noted in the software.  The software can measure movement of the spot on the screen, when you blink, how long you blink for, how long you stare at a particular spot for, and specific patterns of movement such as when your eyes move to the bottom of the screen and stay there.

Most devices that display websites have a small camera attached as standard, and attaching a small light source with the cameras will be a minor addition in the future.

What This Means For Website Design

Eye-tracking is a new feature for web design.  It’s one thing to incorporate it effectively in a pilots helmet costing tens of thousands of dollars, quite another in an iPad.  And there are a whole number of practical obstacles to overcome.   Some people wear glasses and contact lenses. We all read at different speeds and scan across screens in different ways.  Some of us linger naturally on images while others spend more time on the text.  The software has to interpret this variety of behaviours in the way our eyes scan across a screen or web page, and understand when we want an action to take place, or when we just want to look at what’s there.

The designers of this technology are looking at various solutions, from using particular actions, such as using long blinks to be the equivalent of a mouse click, lingering on the edges of a screen as an instruction to scroll, or having extra panels on the edges of the screens with specific action buttons that are activated when focused on.

However the issues are resolved, eye-tracking is an exciting development that could have a significant effect on the design of web pages in the future.  The whole layout of pages, and the features they offer, may evolve in a way the industry hadn’t considered in the past to accommodate the way we actually look at websites, and the speed that we can make things happen, literally in the blink of an eye.

So, to see the future of interactive websites – then keep watching this space…….

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