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Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228

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Computers in Human Behavior

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh

Full length article

A study on the relationships between different presentation modes of

graphical icons and users attention
Hsuan Lin a, *, Yu-Chen Hsieh b, Fong-Gong Wu c
Department of Product Design, Tainan University of Technology, Tainan, Taiwan
Department of Industrial Design, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, Yunlin, Taiwan
Department of Industrial Design, National Cheng Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: With the vigorous development of applications (App), graphical user interfaces (GUI) have been widely
Received 7 September 2015 found in computers and handheld devices. This study aimed to explore the relationships between
Received in revised form different presentation modes of graphical icons and users attention. An eye tracker was employed to
16 April 2016
measure each participants experimental data; in addition, subjective evaluation of attention was con-
Accepted 5 May 2016
ducted. Thus, the optimum presentation mode attracting the most attention might be determined. The
experiment was designed to investigate two variables: icon composition and background. Through
permutation and combination, six presentation modes were obtained as follows: line positive back-
Icon composition
ground (M1), plane positive background (M2), line negative background (M3), plane negative
Background background (M4), line no background (M5), and plane no background (M6). Thirty-six participants
Polarity were requested to view thirty stimuli, or the contour drawings of graphical icons, presented simulta-
Icon border neously in six modes mentioned above. The participants xation duration, xation frequency, and
Fixation subjective evaluation of attention were analyzed through two-way ANOVA. The analytical results showed
Eye-tracking that in terms of the three performance indicators above, M4 performed the best among the six pre-
sentation modes. Moreover, regarding icon composition, planes performed better than lines in terms of
the three performance indicators. As for background, negative background performed the best in terms
of the three performance indicators, positive background ranked second, and no background performed
the worst. The ndings can serve as a reference when icons are researched or designed in the future.
2016 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

1. Introduction visual way; therefore, the software is used with much more ease
(Memon, Banerjee, & Nagarajan, 2003). Also, users can intuitively
With the rise of cellphones and tablets, the market of mobile input instructions to be executed and interact with devices (Wu,
applications (App) has been increasingly booming, so graphical Lin, & You, 2011). Graphical icons are more suitable for a smaller
icons have been commonly found in smart mobile devices. While display space, such as the small screens on handheld devices. Its
working with the help of computers, tablets, or smartphones, users because graphical icons can convey more information or show the
simply click on-screen graphical user interfaces (GUI), or visual minimum instructions in the limited space (Fleetwood & Byrne,
icons, which allow them to operate computers or execute the 2002). Being more diversied as well as convenient, applications
program instructions (N nen & Ojanpa
a, 2003). With graphical in cellphones, tablets, and computers are increasing constantly,
icons presented in a relaxing way, users can locate their desired with the number of corresponding icons also increasing. Under
functions or objects more easily and quickly (Huang, 2008; such a situation, designers tend to make icons more and more
Lindberg & N nen, 2003). That working mode enables users to
asa complex so that icons may provide large amounts of information in
manipulate the main menus, control buttons, and charts in a highly a limited space and enhance users attention (Lindberg & Na s
2003). Well-designed graphical icons can achieve such positive
effects as drawing users attention, shortening search time,
reducing operational errors, and relieving users burden. Therefore,
* Corresponding author.
for interface designers, icon presentation design of a GUI has
E-mail addresses: te0038@mail.tut.edu.tw (H. Lin), chester@yuntech.edu.tw
(Y.-C. Hsieh), fonggong@mail.ncku.edu.tw (F.-G. Wu). remained an important consideration.

0747-5632/ 2016 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228 219

In the past, research on graphical icons focused on their sizes, (Ciuffreda & Tannen, 1995). Acquisition of information occurs only
distances, background (Huang, 2008; Legge, Pelli, Rubin, & during xation (Lindberg & N nen, 2003). Eyes are attracted to
Schleske, 1985; Legge, Rubin, & Luebker, 1987) as well as contrast the most informative areas of a scene because they are physically
(N nen, Ojanpa
asa a
, & Kojo, 2001). As for icon-searching, much distinctive and informative (Rayner, 1998). Pettersson concluded
emphasis was put on how subjective evaluation of usability is that there are ve main points concerning the visual track and
affected by brightness, contrast, sharpness (Na s
anen & Ojanpa a
, attention-attracting as follows. 1) Peoples attention is attracted
2003), position, number, color, and shape (Huang & Lai, 2008). solely by image elements. 2) The form of eye movement or xation
depends on what people expect to see or in what way they are told
1.1. Visual attention to see. 3) The information presented in the image can draw more
eye xation. 4) Different kinds of images result in different forms of
Attention refers to a continuous eye movement. An eye tracker xation duration, intelligence, and visual learning. 5) There is a
can be employed to record the visual space, xation duration, x- positive correlationship between xation duration, intelligence,
ation frequency (number of xations), and xation points, in and visual learning (Pettersson, 1993).
addition to helping a viewer make a choice or preference judgment An eye tracker can be employed to measure the track and xa-
(Ware, 2010). When the viewed images increase from one to two, tion points of an eye movement so that the cognitive process of
the viewers sight line will be pointed to the preferred direction. As viewing may be explored (Hills & Lewis, 2011). The acquisition of
a product is displayed at a physical store, its appearance design is visual information is produced by xation. Before the eyeball
intended to attract consumers attention. For that purpose, the moves on to the next word, a lot of procedures need to be
foremost step is to attract consumers visual attention (Schiffman & completed within a single occurrence of xation (Sereno & Rayner,
Kanuk, 2000), which in turn leads to purchase and consumption. 2003). To be exact, three visual procedures take place: sampling of
Likewise, as a product is displayed at an online store, the webpage the visual eld, analysis of foveal part of the visual eld, and
layout may catch a users attention and lead the user to search for planning of the next eye movement (Viviani, 1989). The process of
relevant information. Such being the case, to convey the message xation can reveal what the humans visual sense feels about a
properly is the primary focus (Landa, 2010). Nowadays, the online certain image, but the process of saccade cannot because of some
network is packed with innumerable sorts of information and physiological limitations of the eyeball, such as the visual masking
countless goods. When a particular product displayed on a website effect (Rayner, 1998; Roefs et al., 2008). In order to know how the
captures peoples attention, it means that the product is appealing eyeball is controlled when a scene or an object is viewed, the
(Baxter, 1995). Usually, webpage design depends on a larger picture following two aspects can be investigated: the xation point and
or title to draw attention, thus inducing consumers to browse. The xation duration (Deubel & Schneider, 1996). The humans visual
layout design can guide the readers visual line and induce their system was simulated by Le Meur, Le Callet, and Barba (2007) based
reading focus to enhance their understanding of the content on spatial distance and temporal length separately. Concerning the
(Landa, 2010). In recent years, with the market of mobile applica- display of images, the former adopted uniform icons to show the
tions (App) thriving, a new business model with business oppor- spatial distribution of the visual sense in the process of viewing,
tunities has come into existence. Icon design is highly benecial to and the latter adopted central display to show the xed focuses. In
the marketing of applications. It is because icon presentation often sum, as a stimulus is viewed by the eyeball, the xation point,
holds a consumers attention and in turn triggers the interaction xation duration, and xation frequency are the critical indexes
between the consumer and an application. Peoples attention tends used to measure attention (Buscher et al., 2009; Deubel &
to be drawn to the image elements (Pettersson, 1993). Images play Schneider, 1996; Pieters, Rosbergen, & Wedel, 1999; Underwood,
an important role in the reading activity, for they can grab the 1998).
readers attention and broaden the related text (Holmqvist &
Wartenberg, 2005). Visual attention is aimed at a specic area of 1.3. Related work
a visual display (Rayner, 1998). Information presented in images
can captivate more visual xation. Different kinds of images will An eye tracker can be used to record xation duration and x-
cause viewers to have different kinds of visual xation, intelligence, ation frequency in the process of word-reading so that the track of
and visual learning (Pettersson, 1993). Aiming at e-commerce the eyeball movement may be realized. By employing the eye
websites, Lee and Benbasat (2003) conducted research on attention tracker combined with the LCD or CRT display, Na sa
nen, Karlsson, &
and product memory. Their ndings showed that high-denition Ojanp (2001) investigated how different font sizes and contrasts
images got more attention than low-denition ones; meanwhile, affect display quality and search speed. It was discovered that on
dynamic interfaces got more attention than static ones. Moreover, a both the two displays, search time decreases as the font size in-
high-denition image combined with a dynamic interface could creases. In other words, as the letter size increases, xation dura-
capture more of a users attention than just a single feature. Simi- tion and xation frequency needed by a single search lessens.
larly, a webpage using big images enhanced the users memory Moreover, under the condition of high contrast, there is no signif-
better than one using small images. icant difference between the two displays in search time. However,
in the case of low contrast, the search time spent on the CRT display
1.2. Eye tracking is considerably longer than that spent on the LED display. Besides,
in the case of low contrast and small font size, visual word-
When a scene or an object is being viewed, a persons eye searching is done in a more sensitive way, which is benecial to
movement can be divided into two categories, i.e., xation and the evaluation of display quality. Furthermore, Goonetilleke, Lau,
saccade, based on different viewing states. Fixation means the and Shihe (2002) suggested that despite the complexity of Chi-
length of time when the sight point of an eyeball is relatively static, nese characters, there is no signicant difference in visual search
but not absolutely static, in a particular time span. By contrast, time. Based on eye movement, Li, Liu, and Rayner (2011) observed
saccade means that the sight point quickly moves from one point in the location on which readers would x their eyes when reading a
space to another (Buscher, Cutrell, & Morris, 2009; Rayner, 1998; Chinese sentence that contained a two-word or four-word phrase.
Sereno & Rayner, 2003). Theoretically, the eyes are xed during It was found that readers eyes landed at the center of a Chinese
xation while in reality there exist tremor, drift, and micro saccades word when only a single xation was made on the word, and that
220 H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228

they landed at the beginning of a word when more than one xa- participants attention as well as observed the participants eye
tion was made on the word. Ojanpa a , N nen, and Kojo (2002)
asa movements, was mainly composed of the following parts. 1)
studied the word identication span, which refers to the area of Collection and investigation of icons: The icons appearing in the
the visual eld in which words can be identied during a single main menus of different platforms were collected. 2) Analysis of
xation. Their study aimed to estimate the vertical word identi- icon presentation modes: After the collected icons were analyzed,
cation span in a visual word-searching task, in which Chinese the characteristics of icon presentation were identied. 3) Selecting
words were arranged in a vertical list. In addition, they studied the icon stimuli: Thirty of the collected icons were selected as experi-
effect of list layout (orientation, length, and line spacing) on search mental stimuli. 4) Sketching the stimuli: The black-and-white
speed and eye movement. The results showed that in vertical lists, contour drawings of all icons were sketched. 5) Experiment with
4e5 words could be identied during a single xation. Thus, the icon-related attention: While the icons were being viewed, eye
vertical word identication span was 4e5 words, whereas the trackers were employed to record the participants xation dura-
horizontal word identication span was about 1e2 words. There tion and xation frequency; besides, subjective evaluation of
were fewer xations and the saccade amplitudes were smaller for attention was conducted to understand the effect of icon presen-
vertical than for horizontal lists of the same length. Furthermore, tation modes on attention. The ndings herein can be used as a
average xation duration for vertical lists was longer than for reference by researchers, interface designers, interactive designers,
horizontal lists. and product designers.
To understand the effects of different icons on visual search,
search speed has to be measured. In addition, the eye tracker is 2. Investigation and analysis of icon presentation modes
employed in a lot of studies to record eye movements so that the
effects of contrast, size, distance, and color may be realized. 2.1. Investigation of icons
Na s
anen, Ojanpa
a, et al. (2001) researched how the contrast of the
stimuli affected the 2-D search speed and how the eyeball move- To investigate existent icons, with the help of Google search
ment could explain the change of visual span. It was discovered that engine, the authors entered the following keywords in both Chi-
average xation duration decreased and saccade amplitudes nese and English in November 2012: online music stores, digital TV,
increased slightly with increasing contrast. However, when and online application stores. Most of the collected icons came from
contrast increased greatly, both xation frequency and xation the main menus of digital TV, online application stores, video game
duration reduced. Na s
anen & Ojanpa a (2003) explored how blur consoles, cellphones, tablets, and computers. Based on the search
and contrast affected visual search speed of the GUI icon. In the results, the top ve websites were arranged in order of relevance,
experiment, the participants were required to locate the target and then the main menus with icons started to be selected. Only
icons in a rectangullar array of distracter icons. Meanwhile, the eye one out of the similar websites was chosen, those websites with
tracker was used to record the xation duration, xation frequency, unstable connection were excluded, and if the website used both
and saccade amplitude. When the real screen was used, it was very English and Chinese, its ofcial website was adopted (Lin & Hsieh,
difcult to render the sharpness of the screen as low as that of the 2015). In the preliminary stage, one hundred and sixty-eight icons
icon stimulus when search time increased. In addition, when a were collected and reorganized.
handheld screen was used outdoors, its sharpness made it hard to
detect the information about the icon or letter, with search speed 2.2. Analysis of icon presentation modes
lowered. Lindberg & Na sa
nen (2003) investigated how the
arrangement, interval, and size of the GUI icons affected visual 2.2.1. Icon composition
processing time. The eye tracker was used to record both xation An icon is a graphical interface with meaning that can convey
duration and xation frequency. It was discovered that as the information rapidly and be remembered effortlessly. The outer
viewing angle of the GUI icon was smaller than 0.7, visual search form of an image is one of the important features in design.
speed increased considerably. As for the interval of icons, the dis- Different ways of composition bring about different visual effects
tance between two adjacent icons should be equal to an icon size. (Wong, 1993). Icon composition can be divided into two categories:
Based on eye tracking, there have been many studies exploring lines and planes. Line-based icons depend on lines to generate the
how webpage browsing affected visual behavior and attention. Pan outline gures while plane-based icons are solid gures composed
et al. (2004) analyzed the behaviors of the viewers eyeball when of planes (Sanders & McCormick, 1987; Shieh & Huang, 2004). Line-
different webpages were read. It was discovered that the online based icons refer to images surrounded by border lines, and the
ocular behavior turned out to be the interaction of various factors. part inside or outside the border line is left blank. By contrast,
Specically, the scan track, xation duration, saccade rate, and plane-based icons are images made up of planes, and the part in-
xation frequency were affected by the participants gender, types side the image is painted in one color. In a study about the symbolic
of webpage, and sequence of browsing. With the eye tracker signs of machines, plane-based icons performed better than line-
employed, Beymer, Orton, and Russell (2007) studied how the based icons (Easterby, 1970).
pictures and words of a webpage affected reading and attention. In
their study, there were three kinds of combination of pictures and 2.2.2. Polarity
words, i.e., pictures related to the text, pictures unrelated to the text There are two types of polarity shown on the screen: positive
(advertisements), and the text with no pictures. It was discovered and negative polarity. The former refers to black images on a white
that extended xation duration resulted in a shorter saccade background while the latter means white images on a black back-
mainly because the viewer slowed down reading speed to recog- ground (Chan & Lee, 2005). One relevant study showed that posi-
nize the pictures and words. Additionally, the appearance of ad- tive polarity did not produce a signicantly higher reading speed
vertisements distracted the viewers attention, which led to than negative polarity (Cushman, 1986). Another study concerning
regression and re-reading of the material (Beymer et al., 2007). the effect of Chinese characters on reading speed discovered that
Up to now, there have been plenty of studies analyzing products, polarity, font, and font size did exert an effect. For instance, the 14-
webpages, word reading, and GUIs. However, it is unknown pt Ming-style font, double line height, and positive polarity showed
whether those ndings can apply to graphical icons. This study, a considerably higher reading rate and legibility than the 10-pt Li-
which focused on the icon presentation modes attracting the style font, single line height, and negative polarity (Oborne &
H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228 221

Holton, 1988). Regarding the polarity of icons, one study found that measure each participants xation duration and xation frequency
positive polarity resulted in a higher search speed than negative while the viewed icons were presented in six modes mentioned
polarity (Gould, Alfaro, Finn, Haupt, & Minuto, 1987). In terms of above; in addition, subjective evaluation of attention would be
legibility, colorless targets (black targets on a white background or conducted.
white targets on a black background) got as much preference as
colored ones. In addition, white images on a black background and 3. Methodology
black images on a white background ranked among the most
preferred combinations (Wang & Chen, 2003). The experiment in this study was performed in two stages. In
the rst stage, the experimental stimuli were selected from the
2.2.3. Icon border collected icons, which ran on two operating systems, Windows and
In order to allow users to see icons readily and clearly, not only OS. In the second stage, eye trackers were employed to measure the
are all icons designed elaborately, but icon borders are also added participants icon-related attention while the icon stimuli were
(Fleetwood & Byrne, 2002). To design a mature icon, improving its presented in six different modes. The experimental results included
border is one of the most important factors (Houde & Salomon, the participants xation duration, xation frequency, and subjec-
1993). The border of a graphical icon could attract the attention tive evaluation of attention. Thus, it could be known how the
of the participants and guide their sight lines towards the icon itself composition and background of graphical icons affect attention.
(Huang & Chiu, 2007). If a graphical user interface (GUI) is designed
to enhance its value, the relationship between an icon and its 3.1. Selecting icon stimuli
border needs to be well understood so that its search efciency may
be improved (Fleetwood & Byrne, 2002). An icon border is usually Sixty-eight sample icons, running on two operating systems
nothing more than a simple rectangle or circle surrounding the (Windows and OS), were selected as the candidates for experi-
icon. The icon border presented in this way has much difculty mental stimuli. Next, the icons too complex, blurred, or abstract to
conveying much information to its users. This is mainly because a be judged immediately were rejected. If two or more icons were
visual supplement on the monitor, in addition to providing similar, only one of them got chosen. To reduce the impacts of those
frequently-used target elements, is likely to interfere with the icon stimuli on the participants cognition, all original icons were
as a distractor, which can slow down visual search (Mohr, 1984). sketched again as black-and-white contour drawings. After that,
There were many previous studies centering on icon borders. Ac- with the help of the software E-Prime, thirty college students with
cording to one of the studies, having no border, round borders, and some experience of product design were requested to grade all the
square borders showed no signicant difference in their effects on icons in terms of recognizability on a seven-level scale. Finally, the
users search speed (Fleetwood & Byrne, 2002). Another study top thirty icons in order of scores (M 5.61, SD 1.32) were picked
demonstrated that a diamond was harder to detect on a cathode- out as the stimuli in the formal experiment.
ray tube display than a circle or square (Hollands, Parker,
McFadden, & Boothby, 2002). Huang and Chiu (2007) investi- 3.2. Participants
gated four types of icon borders: circles, squares, equilateral tri-
angles, and diamonds, discovering that triangles took a longer Among smartphone users, college students are the group
correct response time than circles. growing the fastest of all (Dixit, Ojanpera, van Nee, & Prasad, 2011).
For the purpose of measuring icon-related attention, thirty-six
2.3. Analytic results of icon presentation college students were recruited as the participants from Tainan
University of Technology, with males and females in equal
To analyze the characteristic elements of icon presentation, six numbers, whose ages ranged from eighteen to twenty-three
professional designers were requested to form a focus group. Two (M 20.28, SD 1.26). After entering the laboratory, each partic-
of the professionals were surface designers with over three years of ipant was to sit right in front of the computer. Because the partic-
work experience, another two were interface designers with over ipants were widely different in height, the location and height of
two years of work experience, and the others were industrial de- each participants chair was realigned to match its occupant and
signers with over four years of work experience. After the collected provide a comfortable sitting posture. Besides, the height of each
icons were analyzed, it was discovered that icon presentation participants head was xed so that his or her sight line was parallel
modes include three components: icon composition, polarity, and with the center of the screen. After being properly seated, each
icon borders. To be exact, icon composition is subdivided into lines participant started to read the instructions. When the visual xa-
and planes, polarity is subdivided into positive polarity (black im- tion experiment was made with the help of an eye tracker, the
ages on a white background) and negative polarity (white images participants vision and attention would affect his or her judgment.
on a black background), and icon borders are subdivided into Therefore, each participant had to pass the procedure called
having borders and having no border (Lin & Hsieh, 2015; Lin, Lin, correction of the visual xation point. Moreover, his or her vision
Tsai, Hsieh, & Wu, 2015). In this study, the two characteristic ele- had to conform to the standard vision before or after correction.
ments, polarity and icon borders, were integrated into one element Thus, each participant could see the images clearly and generate a
called background, which is subdivided into positive background, focus of xation all the while. Another important thing was that
negative background, and no background. Based on icon compo- each participant had to take adequate care so as not to suffer from
sition and background, six presentation modes were obtained visual fatigue after a long experiment. This precaution was taken to
through permutation and combination as follows: line positive prevent any error in the experimental data (Lin & Hsieh, 2015; Lin
background (M1), plane positive background (M2), et al., 2015). The thirty-six participants followed the within-
line negative background (M3), plane negative background subjects design, and the order in which they performed the
(M4), line no background (M5), and plane no background (M6), experiment was in compliance with the counterbalanced measures
as shown in Table 1. Also, the table shows the characteristics of design. In other words, the order in which each participant oper-
various presentation modes. The ndings in this section would be ated the experimental interfaces varied with his or her sequence in
used to explore how presentation modes affect users attention in the experiment. After an experiment was nished, its result was
the next stage. Specically, an eye tracker would be utilized to automatically recorded in the system. At the end of the whole
222 H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228

Table 1
Six modes of icon presentation.

Icon composition (C) Background (B)

Line Plane Black images on white background White images on black background No background

M1 x x

M2 x x

M3 x x

M4 x x

M5 x x x

M6 x x x

Note: x means having the feature.

experiment, each participant was rewarded with NT$300.

3.3. Experimental design of icon stimuli

In the second stage, the black-and-white contour drawings of all

icons were sketched. In other words, the colors, backgrounds, and
decorative lines of those collected icons were removed so that such
factors as color, brightness, contrast, and outline shadow might not
affect attention levels or image recognition. The line width of a
contour drawing was 2 pixels, or 0.05 cm; besides, all the drawings
were presented in their optimum views. The experiment is
described as follows.

1) The thirty icon stimuli were arranged in a random way; also,

each presentation mode of any icon was compared with the
other ve modes.
Fig. 1. Six presentation modes of an icon stimulus.
2) Each of the thirty representative stimuli was presented
concurrently in six different modes, or a group of six icons. After
the results were compared, the icon stimuli which performed 5) The experiment herein focused on the participants eye move-
better in terms of xation duration, xation frequency, and ments as the overall outline of an icon was viewed, without
subjective evaluation of attention were identied (Sheth & presenting its detailed features.
Pham, 2008).
3) The viewing distance between the participants eyes and the
screen was 66 cm (25.9 inches); in addition, the viewing angle
was 14.26  14.26 (15  15 cm). As for a single icon, its viewing
angle was 3.34  3.34 (3.5  3.5 cm); moreover, the distance
between the image center and each icon was equal (Huang & 3.4. Experimental tools and conditions
Chiu, 2007). Consequently, after being connected, the centers
of the six icons formed a regular hexagon, as shown in Fig. 1. The HP desktop computer was used to control graphical soft-
4) After a participant entered his or her personal information, he or ware, and the icons were presented on the 22-inch screen with a
she started to conduct the experiment in the predetermined resolution of 1024*768 pixels. The distance from the screen to the
order. With an experiment completed, its results were recorded participants eyes was about 66 cm (25.9 inches) while the viewing
in the system automatically. The order in which any participant angle was 14.26 . Furthermore, GazeTracker (GT), a piece of inter-
made the experiment was determined through permutation face software, was responsible for recording the visual tracks
and combination; namely, the order in which the 36 partici- measured by FaceLab v4, which is an eye tracker. After an infrared
pants viewed the icon stimuli was different from one person to light source was pointed at the participants eyes, FaceLab was
another. In this way, the experiment might be more objective used to extract the data of the participants eye movements at the
and accurate. sampling rate of 60 Hz.
H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228 223

3.5. Experimental procedures for attention Table 2

ANOVA result of xation duration.

With the eye tracker employed, this study aimed to explore how Source df SS MS F
different modes of icon presentation affected a users attention. Within subjects 35 2351.429 67.184
Modeled on the experimental procedures of Ho & Lu (2014), those Icon composition (C) 1 173.274 173.274 6.068*
in this study are described as follows. 1) The experimental goals, C  Subject within group 35 999.444 28.556
methods, and procedures were explained to all participants. 2) Each Background (B) 2 1476.832 738.416 25.017***
B  Subject within group 70 2066.172 29.517
participant started to write down his or her basic information,
CB 2 13.984 6.992 0.551
including name, age, gender, and college major. 3) After reading the Subject within group 70 887.849 12.684
experimental instructions, each participant was requested to * ** ***
Signicant at &0.05; &0.01; &0.001 level.
observe the graphical icons which attracted much attention. 4)
Both vision examination and correction of visual xation points
were performed. 5) At the beginning of the experiment, each multiple range test, it was discovered that xation duration of lines
participant was exposed to a gray screen for six seconds. To avoid and planes was 5939 ms and 7730 ms respectively, as shown in
the effects of persistence of vision, the gray screen was meant to Table 3. In other words, the participants spent more time viewing
help the participant forget the location of the last group of stimuli. the plane-based icons than the line-based icons.
6) The participant was exposed to a xation plus sign () on the Also, the effect of background on xation duration reached a
screen for two seconds. 7) As the participant got ready to view a signicance level (F(2, 70) 25.017, p < 0.001), as shown in Table 2.
target image, the contour drawing of an icon in six presentation After being analyzed through LSD multiple range test, it was
modes appeared simultaneously for six seconds. 8) The participants discovered that xation duration of positive background, negative
went on to experiment with the next icon, repeating steps 5 to 8 background, and no background was 5782 ms, 10,431 ms, and
above until all the thirty icon stimuli were tested. 9) Each partici- 4291 ms respectively, as shown in Table 3. Namely, in terms of
pant was required to ll out a subjective questionnaire of attention xation duration, the icons with negative background performed
in accordance with a seven-level scale, with 1 point meaning the best, those with positive background ranked second, and those
extremely negative, 4 points meaning neutral, and 7 points with no background performed the worst.
meaning extremely positive (Bernard, Chaparro, Mills, & Halcomb,
2003; Huang & Lai, 2008; Lindberg & Na sanen, 2003; Wu, Lee, &
Lin, 2007). For an individual participant, the whole experiment 4.2. Fixation frequency
might be nished within thirty minutes.
As shown by the result of ANOVA concerning xation frequency
3.6. Analysis of the collected data in Table 4, the effect of icon composition on xation frequency
reached a signicance level (F(1, 35) 6.935, p < 0.05). After being
Eye trackers were employed to record the experimental data analyzed through LSD multiple range test, it was discovered that
while thirty-six participants were viewing thirty icon stimuli pre- xation frequency of lines and planes was 28.593 and 36.870 times
sented simultaneously in six modes. As each icon was viewed respectively, as shown in Table 5. In other words, the participants
repeatedly by the participants, thirty groups of xation duration, viewed the plane-based icons more frequently than the line-based
xation frequency, and subjective evaluation of attention were icons.
obtained. In other words, the data about different tested stimuli Also, the effect of background on xation frequency reached a
came from the same group of participants, meaning that the signicance level (F(2, 70) 31.991, p < 0.001), as shown in Table 4.
experiment is a repeated measure design. Moreover, since icon After being analyzed through LSD multiple range test, it was
composition and background were independent variables, they discovered that xation frequency of positive background, negative
became the dependent samples of the repeated measure design. background, and no background was 27.833, 50.472, and 19.889
Therefore, the two-way ANOVA with dependent samples was times respectively, as shown in Table 5. Namely, in terms of xation
conducted to determine whether the two independent variables frequency, the icons with negative background performed the best,
had an interactive effect on each other; in addition, the LSD post those with positive background ranked second, and those with no
hoc test was performed. Finally, the statistical software, Windows background performed the worst.
SPSS 12.0, was used to analyze the results, with p < 0.05 set as the Similarly, the interaction of icon composition and background
level of a signicant difference. had a statistically signicant effect on xation frequency
(F(2,70) 3.193, p < 0.05), as shown in Table 4. Plane negative
4. Result background (M4) ranked rst, line negative background (M3)
ranked second, line positive background (M1), plane positive
4.1. Fixation duration background (M2), and plane no background (M6) ranked in the
third group, and line no background (M5) ranked last, as shown
This study was designed to explore the effect of icon presenta-
tion on attention. As an experimental tool, the eye tracker was
Table 3
employed to measure xation duration and xation frequency; Mean xation duration under each level of the independent variables and LSDs
meanwhile, a questionnaire was used to carry out subjective eval- multiple range tests on signicant factors.
uation of attention. Afterwards, the effects of icon composition and
Source n Fixation duration (ms) Std. error LSD
background were analyzed.
Icon composition (C)
The interaction of icon composition and background did not
Line 36 5939 471 Plane > Line
produce a statistically signicant effect on xation duration (F(2, Plane 36 7730 815
70) 0.551, p > 0.05). Table 2 shows the result of ANOVA concerning Background (B)
xation duration. Nevertheless, the effect of icon composition alone Positive 36 5782 485 Negative > Positive > Non
on xation duration reached a signicance level (F(1, 35) 6.068, Negative 36 10431 998
Non 36 4291 723
p < 0.05), as shown in Table 2. After being analyzed through LSD
224 H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228

Table 4 Table 6
ANOVA result of xation frequency. ANOVA result of subjective evaluation of attention.

Source df SS MS F Source df SS MS F

Within subjects 35 66047.093 1887.060 Within subjects 35 2.759 0.079

Icon composition (C) 1 3700.167 3700.167 6.935* Icon composition (C) 1 146.685 146.685 62.370***
C  Subject within group 35 18674.500 533.557 C  Subject within group 35 82.315 2.352
Background (B) 2 36263.370 18131.685 31.991*** Background (B) 2 91.898 45.949 12.303***
B  Subject within group 70 39673.963 566.771 B  Subject within group 70 261.435 3.735
CB 2 1357.444 678.722 3.193* CB 2 9.009 4.505 3.391*
Subject within group 70 14881.889 212.598 Subject within group 70 92.991 1.328
* ** *** * ** ***
Signicant at &0.05; &0.01; &0.001 level. Signicant at &0.05; &0.01; &0.001 level.

Table 5 participants subjectively thought that planes attracted attention

Mean xation frequency under each level of the independent variables and LSDs more easily than lines.
multiple range tests on signicant factors.
Also, the effect of background on subjective evaluation of
Source n Fixation frequency Std. error LSD attention reached a signicance level (F(2, 70) 12.303, p < 0.001),
Icon composition (C) as shown in Table 6. After being analyzed through LSD multiple
Line 36 28.593 2.516 Plane > Line range test, it was discovered that the mean score for subjective
Plane 36 36.870 4.010 evaluation of attention got by positive background, negative back-
Background (B)
ground, and no background was 3.542, 4.375, and 2.778 respec-
Positive 36 27.833 2.691 Negative > Positive > Non
Negative 36 50.472 5.128 tively, as shown in Table 7. Namely, in terms of attention-attracting,
Non 36 19.889 2.900 negative background performed the best, positive background
ranked second, and no background performed the worst.
Similarly, the interaction of icon composition and background
had a statistically signicant effect on subjective evaluation of
attention (F(2,70) 3.391, p < 0.05), as shown in Table 6. In terms of
mean scores for subjective evaluation of attention, plane negative
background (M4) ranked rst, plane positive background (M2)
ranked second, plane no background (M6), line negative
background (M3), and line positive background (M1) ranked in
the third group, and line no background (M5) ranked last, as
shown in Fig. 3. In terms of subjective preference, M4
(plane negative background) ranked rst. That is, users think that
icons in M4 attract attention more easily. M2 (plane positive
background) ranked second. M4 and M2 ranked in the top two, for
they are comprised of plane combined with negative or positive
background. The participants think that planed-based icons are
likelier to attract attention. In the third group ranked M1, M3, and
M6. The above result shows that line-based icons get lower sub-
jective scores than plane-based ones. Last came M5, which is
composed of line and no background.
Fig. 2. The interactive effect of icon composition  background on xation frequency.

5. Dissection
in Fig. 2. In terms of xation frequency, M4 and M3, which contain
negative background with plane or line, ranked in the top two. In 5.1. Fixation duration
other words, icons with negative background are likelier to capture
users attention. In the third group ranked M1, M2, and M6, which 5.1.1. Relationship between xation duration and icon composition
consist of either positive background or no background; namely, As discovered by this study, icon composition and background
they are less likely to draw users attention. The above result shows have a statistically signicant effect on xation duration. As for icon
that in terms of xation frequency, icons with negative background composition, planes take a longer xation time than lines. The line-
perform better than those with positive background or no back- based icon consists of lines while the plane-based icon consists of
ground. Last came M5, which is composed of line and no planes. The image dened by planes is larger and clearer than the
background. image dened by lines; namely, the plane-based image is more eye-
catching than the line-based image (Easterby, 1970). From a
standpoint of design, planes convey more love and vitality than
4.3. Subjective evaluation of attention lines (Wong, 1993); consequently, plane-based icons catch the
participants attention more easily than line-based icons. In addi-
Table 6 shows the result of ANOVA concerning subjective eval- tion, general icons need to be presented on smartphones, tablets, or
uation of attention on a seven-level scale. The effect of icon screens. However, the width of a line is so small as to decrease the
composition on subjective evaluation of attention reached a sig- integrity of the image (Huang & Chiu, 2007); in consequence, the
nicance level (F(1, 35) 62.370, p < 0.001). After being analyzed participants can not perceive the graphical signicance of a line-
through LSD multiple range test, it was discovered that the mean based icon clearly, which results in problems with recognition. By
score for subjective evaluation of attention got by lines and planes contrast, the image in a plane-based icon is dened by planes, so
was 2.741 and 4.389 respectively, as shown in Table 7. Namely, the the participants can clearly know the meaning represented by the
H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228 225

Table 7
Mean scores for subjective evaluation of attention under each level of the independent variables and LSDs multiple range tests on signicant factors.

Source n Score for subjective evaluation Std. error LSD

Icon composition (C)

Line 36 2.741 0.110 Plane > Line
Plane 36 4.389 0.102
Background (B)
Positive 36 3.542 0.171 Negative > Positive > Non
Negative 36 4.375 0.192
Non 36 2.778 0.197

have a longer xation time than those with positive background.

Likewise, Huang & Chiu investigated how the width of the icon
border and the icon size affected search time. According to their
study, when the participants searched for the icons, different
widths of the icon borders showed different effects on search time.
To be precise, the 1-pixel border took the longest xation time, the
2-pixel border ranked second, and the 3-pixel border took the
shortest xation time (Huang & Chiu, 2007). In this study, the
width of the border line with positive background is only 2 pixels,
and the border with negative background is framed by planes.
When a border line grows to a certain width, it will become a plane.
Larger icons tend to attract attention more easily. Therefore, the
icons with negative background occupy a longer xation time than
those with positive background.

5.2. Fixation frequency

Fig. 3. The interactive effect of icon composition  background on subjective evalu- 5.2.1. Relationship between icon composition and xation
ation of attention. frequency
Both icon composition and background have a statistically sig-
nicant effect on xation frequency. Regarding icon composition,
image. In other words, the plane-based icon is more easily noticed
planes have a higher xation frequency than lines. Easterby and
and takes a longer xation time.
Sanders & McComick noted that line-based images usually have
Complexity is another factor that affects xation duration. A
more details than plane-based images and that the former perform
line-based icon dissects the image space for more times than a
worse than the latter in terms of recognizability. The more details
plane-based icon. As a result, the ner an image is, the more
an image has, the more complex it will become. Thus, the details on
complex its composition is (Shieh & Huang, 2004). Visually com-
complex images are supposed to cause interference, rendering the
plex images may lower users recognition performance (Curry,
symbols difcult to identify (Easterby, 1970; Sanders & McCormick,
McDougall, & de Bruijn, 1998; Dewar, 1999). In an environment
1987). Young & Wogalter and Kline & Fuchs pointed out that im-
with poor legibility, the line-based icon is obviously more complex
ages with fewer details can be identied more easily. In addition,
than the plane-based icon, so lines are less noticeable than planes.
while the line-based and plane-based images are viewed concur-
That is to say, planes occupy a longer xation time than lines.
rently, the former are less likely to be noticed, for the lines are too
thin to be eye-catching (Kline & Fuchs, 1993; Young & Wogalter,
5.1.2. Relationship between background and xation duration 2000).
The background of an icon has a statistically signicant effect on
xation duration. As indicated by this study, negative background 5.2.2. Relationship between background and xation frequency
takes the longest xation time, followed by positive background, The effects of different backgrounds on xation frequency reach
while no background takes the shortest xation time. The larger an a signicance level. As indicated in this study, negative background
image is, the more easily it will capture the participants attention, has the highest xation frequency, followed by positive back-
and the longer its xation time will be. Shieh & Lin studied how the ground, and no background has the lowest xation frequency. An
size as well as the width of the circle and the slash on prohibition icon includes its background and image, with the area inside the
signs affected saccade legibility. Their ndings pointed out that the border considered as a part of the icon. The image with negative or
sign with saccade legibility of 100% and 75% had a larger area than positive background is larger than the image with no background. A
the sign with saccade legibility of 50%. The larger an image was, the larger image helps to upgrade its own recognizability (Bullimore,
higher its legibility became. However, as the image grew to a Howarth, & Fulton, 1990) and is easily captured by vision
certain size, its legibility could not improve any more (Shieh & Lin, (Mirzoeff, 2002).
2000). The conclusions of the above study agree with those of this Also, the effects of negative and positive background on xation
study. This study discovers that the image of the icon itself together frequency reach a signicance level. For an icon with positive
with negative or positive background, including the outer border, is background, the color of both its border and the screen background
treated as a whole image. Thus, the icon with negative or positive is white. Contrarily, the black color of negative background displays
background is larger than the icon with no background. The larger a sharp contrast with the white screen, being likelier to be noticed
an icon is, the more easily it will attract attention. (Wolfe, Oliva, Horowitz, Butcher, & Bompas, 2002). The black
Also, as shown in this study, icons with negative background border area of negative background is more noticeable than the
226 H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228

white border area of positive background. Thus, negative back- attention. The above results correspond with those of xation
ground or positive background is likelier to be noticed by the par- duration and xation frequency. Regarding icon composition, the
ticipants, having a higher xation frequency than no background. participants think that all plane-based icons are better than line-
based ones. As for background, negative background performs the
5.2.3. Interactive effect of icon composition and background on best, followed by positive background, and no background per-
xation frequency forms the worst.
The interaction of icon composition and background has a sta- Concerning subjective evaluation of attention, plane-based
tistically signicant effect on xation frequency. In this study, two icons get higher scores than line-based icons. Line-based icons
kinds of icon composition and three kinds of background are have more lines and line segments than plane-based icons. As a line
evaluated. In terms of xation frequency, plane negative back- is ner than a plane, the former used in an icon is likelier to be
ground (M4) ranks rst, line negative background (M3) ranks ignored than the latter.
second, line positive background (M1), plane positive back- Additionally, with the scores for subjective evaluation of
ground (M2), and plane no background (M6) rank in the third attention compared, negative background gets the highest score,
group, and line no background (M5) ranks last. The ndings in positive background ranks second, and no background gets the
this study correspond with those of Lin et al. (2015), who explored lowest score. There are two reasons for that, as described below.
the rst xation concerning graphical icons. According to the latter First, the viewed icons with a background have a larger area than
study, M4 gets the largest number of rst xations, followed by M3, those without a background, easily catching the participants
and both are above the expected value. By contrast, M2, M1, M6, attention. Second, an icon with negative background has a larger
and M5 are below the expected value, with M5 performing the area completely colored than one with positive background. A
worst of all. This study has discovered that M4 gets the largest white icon on a black background is more noticeable. Therefore,
number of xations mainly because the icon border is considered negative background draws attention more easily than positive
as a part of the icon (Bullimore et al., 1990). The icon with back- background.
ground has a lager image area than the icon with no background. The interaction of icon composition and background has a sta-
Then, a large image is likelier to be noticed than a small image, tistically signicant effect on subjective evaluation of attention. The
having the advantage of capturing visual attention (Mirzoeff, 2002). ndings in this study are similar to those of Lin & Hsieh (2015), who
In addition, the black color of negative background is totally explored how different presentation modes affect users subjective
different from the white color of the icon; thus, the entire icon can preference levels. Specically, the icon presented in M4
be highlighted (Wolfe et al., 2002), and eye-catching icons are apt (plane negative polarity border) performs the best in terms of
to be noticed. user preference while the icon presented in M5 (line positive
M3 gets the second highest xation frequency. Although nega- polarity no border) performs the worst. As discovered by this
tive background makes the icon seem larger and likelier to catch study, M4 attracts the most attention; M2 ranks second; M1, M3,
attention, still lines are more complex than planes, which fact and M6 rank among the third group; M5 attracts the least attention.
contributes to poorer recognizability (Curry et al., 1998; Dewar, As for M4, its performance in subjective evaluation of attention
1999; Easterby, 1970). Moreover, by denition, a line has length corresponds with that in xation frequency. Namely, the icon with
and location, being just one-dimensional and having no width and plane negative background (M4) is the most easily noticed. As for
height. As for a plane, it is the path along which a line travels; M3, its performance in subjective evaluation of attention does not
besides, it is a two-dimensional space composed of two elements: correspond with that in xation frequency. In terms of subjective
length and width (Wong, 1993). Therefore, the icon consisting of evaluation of attention, M3 performs worse than M2; contrarily, in
lines tends to become blurred owing to ne lines. By contrast, the terms of xation frequency, M3, ranking second, performs better
plane-based icon is divided by planes, so it usually has a larger area, than M2. It is mainly because the participants subjectively consider
looking more vivid than the line-based icon. That is why M4 is more that planes are invariably better than lines. According to one study,
easily noticed than M3. a detailed image tends to render the icon more complex (Curry
M2, M1, and M6 get a lower xation frequency than M4 or M3. et al., 1998). The more complex an image is, the poorer its recog-
The main reason is that in the case of M4 or M3, negative polarity nizability will be (Easterby, 1970). Besides, as a line is ner than a
combined with planes or lines has a black background and a white plane, the former used in an icon is less likely to be noticed than the
image, thus catching visual attention more easily. By contrast, as latter. In an environment where the participants cannot identify
the icons in M1 and M2 have a black image on a white background, images smoothly, they subjectively regard M3 icons
they are less likely to capture visual attention (Wolfe et al., 2002). (line negative background) as more unnoticeable than M2 icons
As indicated by the experimental results herein, M2, M6, and M1 (plane positive background).
show no statistically signicant difference in terms of xation fre- On the other hand, M1 and M3, both of which have a back-
quency. The conclusion is similar to that reached by Fleetwood & ground, and M6, which has no background, show no statistically
Byrne, who explored icon borders. According to the two re- signicant difference in subjective evaluation of attention. The
searchers, the effects of no border, round borders, and square above result is somewhat different from that of xation frequency.
borders on search speed showed no signicant difference The icons in M1 and M3 have a background and are larger than the
(Fleetwood & Byrne, 2002). Similarly, this study discovers that the icon in M6. Despite that, the icon in M1 is line-based, so the ne
participants pay more attention to the line-based and plane-based lines prevent it from looking as obvious as a plane-based icon (M6).
images. Although the icon with positive background (M1) is larger
than the icon with no background (M6), the border lines of M1 are 6. Conclusions
too ne to be noticed by the participants.
This study has explored how icon presentation modes in the
5.3. Subjective evaluation of attention main menus of webpages and digital systems affect users atten-
tion. While the icons were being viewed, eye trackers were
The results of subjective evaluation of attention indicate that employed to record the participants xation duration and xation
icon composition and background are the major factors affecting frequency; meanwhile a questionnaire was used to carry out
H. Lin et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 63 (2016) 218e228 227

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