Looks Can Kill Your Design Effectiveness

When you use a human model in an email campaign, print / banner ad or landing page – does it help or hinder usability, persuasion and conversion?

Research from eye-tracking specialists Bunnyfoot and Think Eyetracking show that a model’s eyes influence your eye movement:

Bunnyfoot, via GrokDotCom

Think Eyetracking, via GrokDotCom

When conducting email tests, often the variables considered are subject lines, headlines, time/date of delivery, offers, call to action buttons, prices or featured products. But as Bryan Eisenberg suggests, you should treat a model’s gaze as a testing variable.

Though this research has been known for a while, most ecommerce creative using human models use the “here’s looking at you” approach:

Or the “looking in the opposite direction”:

With the occasional “looking at something”:

While I find the research fascinating, I’d like to see eye-tracking studies that compare when a model looks head-on vs. at a headline vs. at a featured product vs. at a call to action button — combined with actual impact on conversion and average order value / revenue.


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13 Responses to “Looks Can Kill Your Design Effectiveness”

  1. Dr. Pete says:

    It’s been a while, but I seem to recall some primate research from grad. school where they had found cells in monkey’s brain that are tuned to where other monkeys are looking. Essentially, there’s a survival benefit – if other people are looking at something (especially a group of people), you might want to know what’s going on.

    Interesting to see it have such a practical impact.

  2. Should be easy to do an a/b email test of a model looking at the product or headline vs. into the eyes of the viewer.

    Which generates the most click throughs and sales? Great idea to try out! Anyone tested this already?

  3. Brent says:

    Great post. Makes me want to do an A/B email test right now. But I will have to wait for one with the right images..

    I would like to say thanks for the great blog posts here. I just found this blog a couple weeks ago. I really like blog posts that make me want to try stuff out. Great blog!!

  4. Wiep says:

    Do you mean something like http://www.seointern.com/blog/jack-russell-terrier-raises-conversions.html?

    We’re currently running a few similar tests, and the results are pretty obvious. Don’t let a model look at the visitor, but at the content, CTA button, or your USP.

  5. Thanks for all the comments, and @Wiep I really like that example you link to.

    Would be great if everyone who tests this comes back to comment and link to their own case study/results!

  6. Great Post.. Definitely got me thinking

  7. Great article. Thanks for sharing. I will definitely be paying more attention to this in the future!

  8. Jojo says:

    Good information, you can visit this page to see another example related to e-commerce.

  9. martin says:

    It’s been a while, but in Germany there have been tons of research on eye-movement in catalogs. I always wondered why so much of proven effectiveness never made it to the web.

    Catalogs have shown time and time again that you need to have models facing to the right in order to make people flip the page. You have to have models looking into the eyes of the reader in order to keep her interested.

    Additional studies have shown that those trendy models looking grumpy or avoiding eye-contact even cause a feeling of being repelled.

    And by the way, this is not some psychological stuff. The tests have been made on a “dollars per book”-basis.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Fabulous post and comments. Thanks for sharing! Great blog.

  11. The Goat says:

    You just have to make sure nobody is looking at that unsubscribe link

  12. good topic, deserve a second thought.

  13. [...] wearing or displaying your product or does the model detract from the product? There have also been studies around models where they are looking out at the audience versus looking at the copy and the impact on response; so be cognizant and conduct some tests to see which creates the most [...]

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