A new study by the Catalyst Group, using Eye Tracking and Usability techniques to compare two popular types of list layouts, determined that one was clearly more effective than the other. Although a 1-Column layout is a simpler design that requires more scrolling, and in generally took more time to review, the Eye Tracking study indicates that this is a much more effective layout for accurately accomplishing the key networking goals of scanning a list from which to select people, or, by extension, make a selection.
In order to isolate the specific function to better facilitate scanning, and create a more fluid and comfortable user experience, two "people" list layouts that did not contain any other navigation or design elements, inspired by the two leading social networking sites: Facebook and LinkedIn, were selected. The content of each selection was identical in terms of the number of names and descriptions listed, except that the Facebook-inspired interface included pictures of the individuals and the LinkedIn-inspired design only listed name and title.
The LinkedIn and Facebook designs are referred to as the 3-Column Layout and the 1-Column Layout, respectively, throughout the report.
Three presumptions galvanized the study design:
In order to simulate "real world" use of the two tested interfaces, tasks were created that would mimic the act of scanning a list for someone recognizable without knowing specifically who they are. And, more specifically, scanning for a recognizable name. Each participant was presented simulated tasks in both layouts.
Overall, the 1-Column layout was a much more effective and enjoyable way of presenting the tested information. This preference was clearly articulated by users during follow-up qualitative sessions, and was also supported by heatmaps and gaze plots during Eye Tracking. The single column of names was easy to read straight down during the Name Recognition Task, and users were able to "ignore" the adjacent column which contained information that wasn't relevant to the current task. Similarly, users scanned vertically down the title/description column when searching.
All participants scanned the 1-Column layout the same way and there was very little hesitation or exploration at the start of the task. Users were able to dive right into scanning without having to experiment with different scanning strategies.
The 3-Column layout was thought by most participants to be more cumbersome and overwhelming in its design. And participants felt much less confident that they had successfully completed the tasks with the 3-Column layout... they did not feel sure that they had seen all the names.
Eye Tracking of the 3-Column layout revealed that the participants did not adopt a consistent scanning strategy for this design. Moreover, most participants had to begin by experimenting with different scanning strategies before "deciding" which one to use.
Of importance in gaining a comfort level in internalizing the results of this study, it is suggested that our readers review the more complete data including "Gaze Plots," indicate the progression of each user's attention on the page, while showing places where users paused, or "fixated," on a particular spot. In addition, Eye Tracking "Heatmaps" show the attention "hotspots" on a page for all the tested participants combined. Areas are shown in selected colors for the greatest relative attention, medium attention and low attention.
3-Column Layout findings included such things as:
1-Column Layout findings included:
Follow-up discussions reinforced the Eye Tracking findings indicating that the 1-column design is a much more effective layout for accurately accomplishing the key networking goals of scanning. Participants unanimously preferred the 1-column format, saying they were more confident in their success after using this layout as compared to the 3-Column version, and reported feeling more at ease while performing the tasks.
To view the complete study in a PDF file with colored scanning charts, please visit here.
In addition, the CEO of the Catalyst Group prefaces the study at this link.