Jul 31, 2018

Eye-tracking the Abstract

By: Jacob Smith

Web Design

“Artwork is inherently emotional and the emotional reactions that are elicited by abstract artwork might lead participants to focus their attention within the upper-right quadrant to better engage emotional processing”
— Nicole Thomas and Ali Simpson, Acta Psychologica

I found this article in Fast Company and was fascinated. We have used mouse tracking (a cheap alternative) on usability testing, but the thought of eye tracking in abstract art is new to me.

One of the pieces that was used was Faces of Blue by Nestor Toro. We used it for our feature image. I have no idea if Toro wanted to create a focal point or not, but I can see how different people may take it in differently.

The classic rule of thumb for web usability is that people scan from left to right in an "F" pattern. Two horizontal passes at the top of the page and then a longer vertical pass down the page.

This study found a very different pattern. People started in the top right and moved around the painting in a clockwise motion.

More interestingly they found people who where more neurotic focused more on the left side of the art. Nueroticsm is one of the "big five" personality traits and is defined this way by Psychologist World:

A neurotic personality is characterised by persistent, often disproportionate, worrying and anxiety. A person may strive to be a perfectionist during their everyday activities, and experience stress as a result of events that are beyond their control.

The authors theorize that neuroticism causes people to focus inward and engage less with visual stimuli so they might not engage with the entire piece of art.

We could think more about user's emotional states more. We are working on a website for a humane society currently. It makes me think we need to consider how the emotional state of having to surrender an animal impacts design and user interaction.

Where else does emotion come into play in design?

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