Dashboard Design: A study on eye tracking

Applying the science behind visual cues to business dashboards


At Tableau Conference 2016, Tableau's Research and Design team met with customers to run a study that sought to understand how the eye tracks visual information.

Using state-of-the-art eye trackers and UX design principles, the team developed hypotheses backed by cognitive psychology to answer one key question:

Can we predict what viewers are drawn to when exposed to a dashboard they’ve never seen before?


In this study, an eye tracking device was used to chart participants' gazes across various dashboards.

Using lenses and cameras, the tracker beams infrared light into the participant’s eyes, and—based on the angles of the reflection—determines where the participant is placing visual attention.

Analysis conducted for this study was at the aggregate level, visualized as gaze opacity, heat map, and gaze plots.

Gaze opacity for clarity

The gaze opacity map is an inverse of the heatmap. Like a dirty window getting wiped clean, the gaze opacity map visualizes where eye movements concentrate by increasing the opacity of the area in attention.

A gaze opacity map offers detailed and clear results by displaying only areas that get attention, while others are masked or blacked out.

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Heatmap for focus

The heatmap and gaze opacity map are static representations of the "bee swarm" effect. The heatmap visualization uses the concept of hot (red) or cold (green) to illustrate areas that have the most visual attention across all participants in the study.

By using color to communicate relationships between data values, it's easy to tell where viewers spend time focusing on certain elements in your dashboard.

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Gaze plot for sequence

Gaze plots show the location, order, and time spent looking at locations on the dashboard. The primary function of the gaze plot is to reveal the sequence of where and when we look at various elements.

The longer the participant spends on one area of the dashboard, the larger the circle becomes. You can better plan your dashboard's layout by noticing which elements first draw the eye, and how viewers tend to shift focus after that.

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Big Numbers Matter

It may be no surprise, but big numbers, as in the size of the font, have some of the most striking patterns when it comes to visual attention.

Want to make sure your audience pays attention to a particularly important number? Make it big!

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