Eye-tracking news design and consumer habits on tablets


Last week I attended a meeting at Northwestern University unveiling new eye-tracking research about how news consumers interact with content on tablet devices.  The research was lead by Sara Quinn of The Poynter Institute, Dave Staton of Smart Media Creative and Jeremy Gilbert of Northwestern University. I’ve been contributing as an advisor to the research over the past year and was excited to see the first wave of results.

Poynter design prototypeThe research focused on two core groups of tablet users–the “digital natives” (ages 18-28) and the “printnets” (ages 45-55)–who viewed apps from ESPN, USA Today, NPR, and CNN, as well as three Poynter-produced prototype designs that represented current news tablet design standards:

  • Traditional (like the New York Times and Boston Globe)
  • Carousel (like Pulse and the Orange County Register)
  • Tiles (like Flipboard or CNN)

Some of the key take-aways that news organizations should keep in mind when designing and creating content for the tablet include:

  • Seventy percent said they preferred landscape over vertical or portrait orientation. Their overall choice has a lot to do with the screen dimension for watching videos, they said. These factors are important as news organizations determine the resources they need to devote to creating and design content in multiple modes.
  • Readers have an overwhelming instinct to swipe horizontally through a full screen photo gallery, regardless of portrait of landscape orientation, as we reported previously.
  • As with earlier eyetracking studies, people tended to enter a screen through a dominant element, generally a photograph. Faces in photographs and videos attracted a lot of attention.
  • There was strong reliance on using the browser to navigate between stories, even though navigation tools were also designed into the publication. Sixty-five percent of study participants used the browser back button, rather than the home button or publication nav design. This speaks to the importance of the familiarity of tools — people will default to what they know if it’s available.
  • Tablet design requires the same sorts of finesse with color, type, image, grid and navigation necessary for print or Web design. But touch … well, that’s the new factor in keeping a reader engaged.

At the event, Quinn said the research will continue with the next piece focusing on advertising in news content on tablets. More take-aways and analysis are available here.

Here are more tweets and coverage from the event:

[<a href="http://storify.com/eyetracktablet/poynter-research-on-storytelling-on-tablet" target="_blank">View the story "Poynter EyeTrack: Storytelling on Tablet" on Storify</a>]The public presentation is archived and viewable here:

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