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Eyetracking research shows that people scan webpages and phone screens in various patterns, one of them being the shape of the letter F. Eleven years after discovering this pattern, we revisit what it means today. Over the years, many have referred to this research, sometimes correctly, and in many other instances misinterpreting it.
In this article, we aim to report on recent research revisiting it and also to clarify some of the misconceptions related to the F-pattern. Scanning on the web does not always take the shape of an F. There are other common scanning patterns too.
The F-pattern is negative for users and businesses. Good design can prevent F-shape scanning. This is one of the first examples of the F-pattern from our studies in the early s. This heatmap aggregates gazes from more than 45 people trying to learn what happened in Galveston Texas in The F-Shaped Pattern In the F-shaped scanning pattern is characterized by many fixations concentrated at the top and the left side of the page.
Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement.
Sometimes this is a slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap.
Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. The implications of this pattern are: First lines of text on a page receive more gazes than subsequent lines of text on the same page. First few words on the left of each line of text receive more fixations than subsequent words on the same line.
Thus, on the first lines of text, people will scan more words on the right than on the following lines. This scanning pattern resembles the shape of the letter F, but it is rarely a perfect F. For example, in some cases, people may become interested in a paragraph down the page and may fixate on more words, reading toward the right again, so the pattern comes to resemble an E.
So, in an F-pattern, the gazes on the left fall on the left part of the content area, not on the very leftmost part of the full page, if the left column is occupied by a navigation rail.
A typical example of the longevity of UX findings which depend more on human behavior than on technology. The red color on this heatmap is an example of the F-shaped pattern — same today as 11 years ago.
Your browser does not support the video tag. This gaze replay shows a mobile user scanning in the F-pattern as he researches portrait camera lenses.
The red hollow circle represents where he is fixating. In most browsers, hover over the video to display the controls if they're not already visible. The text columns were wider than the screen, so she swiped horizontally as she was reading. Our recent round of eyetracking research also showed that in right-to-left languages such as Arabic, people read in a flipped F-shaped pattern as we had predicted but had not seen prior to this research.
The F-pattern is mirrored in right-to-left languages, such as Arabic, as shown in this gaze replay of a user reading an article about a skeet-shooting competition on an Arabic news site.For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for you.
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