The effect of four user interface concepts on visual scan pattern similarity and information foraging in a complex decision making task

Sandra Starke, Christopher Baber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


User interface (UI) design can affect the quality of decision making, where decisions based on digitally presented content are commonly informed by visually sampling information through eye movements. Analysis of the resulting scan patterns – the order in which people visually attend to different regions of interest (ROIs) – gives an insight into information foraging strategies. In this study, we quantified scan pattern characteristics for participants engaging with conceptually different user interface designs. Four interfaces were modified along two dimensions relating to effort in accessing information: data presentation (either alpha-numerical data or colour blocks), and information access time (all information sources readily available or sequential revealing of information required). The aim of the study was to investigate whether a) people develop repeatable scan patterns and b) different UI concepts affect information foraging and task performance. Thirty-two participants (eight for each UI concept) were given the task to correctly classify 100 credit card transactions as normal or fraudulent based on nine transaction attributes. Attributes varied in their usefulness of predicting the correct outcome. Conventional and more recent (network analysis- and bioinformatics-based) eye tracking metrics were used to quantify visual search. Empirical findings were evaluated in context of random data and possible accuracy for theoretical decision making strategies. Results showed short repeating sequence fragments within longer scan patterns across participants and conditions, comprising a systematic and a random search component. The UI design concept showing alpha-numerical data in full view resulted in most complete data foraging, while the design concept showing colour blocks in full view resulted in the fastest task completion time. Decision accuracy was not significantly affected by UI design. Theoretical calculations showed that the difference in achievable accuracy between very complex and simple decision making strategies was small. We conclude that goal-directed search of familiar information results in repeatable scan pattern fragments (often corresponding to information sources considered particularly important), but no repeatable complete scan pattern. The underlying concept of the UI affects how visual search is performed, and a decision making strategy develops. This should be taken in consideration when designing for applied domains.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-17
JournalApplied Ergonomics
Early online date12 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


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