right arrow sign on wall




Imagine you’re looking at a screen showing a picture of a person looking at a product, like the picture shown in Figure 7.1.

FIGURE 7.1 An image of a person looking at a product.

Will your gaze go to the same place as the gaze of the person in the picture? The answer is yes.

But there’s more to this than there may first appear to be.

The Influence Of Gaze Direction

Anecdotal evidence shows that people will follow the gaze of a person in a photo. Most of this evidence is based on heat map and/or eye tracking data.

There is a peer-reviewed study by Giovanni Galfano (2012) that backs up the gaze direction claims, but the research has an interesting add-on result. Galfano and his team told participants that they would see a shape appear on a screen, on either the left or right. When the shape appeared, the participants were supposed to press the space bar as quickly as possible.

In some of the trials, the participants would simply see the shape and press the space bar. But in others, two things would happen before the target shape appeared. First, the word “left” or “right” (in Italian, as this study was conducted in Italy) would appear in the middle of the screen. The word was always an accurate clue as to where the target shape would appear. But between the display of the word and the display of the target shape, another clue would display. This was a cartoon face in the middle of the screen, looking either left or right. Sometimes the face gave a correct clue; sometimes the face looked to the right, but the target shape appeared on the left, or vice versa. The words were always accurate, but the cartoon’s gaze was not always accurate.

In a second version of the study, an arrow pointed to the left or right instead of a cartoon face gazing to the left or right.

The participants were told to pay attention to the words “left” and “right” and to ignore the faces and arrows. Of course they couldn’t ignore them. When the faces or the arrows appeared and looked in the wrong direction from where the target shape showed up, the participants took more time to press the space bar. The participants were trying to, but couldn’t, ignore the face or the arrows.

So isn’t this evidence that we look in the same direction the face is gazing or the arrow is pointing? Well, yes, but…

Is Looking The Same As Taking Action?

Galfano suggests that if you’re designing an ad, a product page, or a landing page, you could use a picture of person, a cartoon face, or an arrow all gazing or pointing in a certain direction. And now you know that any of those cues will increase the likelihood that visitors will look there too. But will they take action? Will they press a button? Will they fill in a form? Sometimes you want people to do more than look in a particular direction. You want them to take an action, press a button, or click on a link. Is gaze the best way to do that?

Scientific research is slim on this question, but Jon Correll from Conversion Voodoo (www.conversionvoodoo.com) did some A/B testing that lays out a model for testing what gets people to take action.

Correll’s hypothesis was that conveying emotion is more effective in getting people to take action than having the viewer look in a certain direction. Correll did a series of landing page tests. He kept the landing page the same for each test and changed only the picture of the person. He did the test with over 150,000 unique visitors, and tested ten different images. Each image was of the same model, wearing the same color (white), but it varied in the direction she was facing, her use of arms and pointing, and her facial expression. Sometimes she looked at the call to action, but other times she looked directly at the viewer. Sometimes she pointed to the call to action, but sometimes she didn’t. In every picture, the model looks happy, but in some she looks much more animated and excited than others.

Figure 7.2 shows Correll’s baseline image. He measured the percentage of visitors who pressed on the call to action of the landing page with this image—where the model is looking at and gesturing toward the call to action—and then compared that to all the other images.

Figure 7.3 shows the other images that were tested. The percentage on each image displays how much better or worse each image was in getting visitors to click in comparison to the baseline image. Images with red numbers did worse than the baseline. Images with yellow numbers did somewhat better than the baseline. And images with green numbers did much better than the baseline.

Beautiful young mixed asian / caucasian woman presenting your very exciting product. Isolated on white.

FIGURE 7.2 Jon Correll’s baseline image (Research by Jon Corell).

FIGURE 7.3 The gaze images that were tested.

These results are not conclusive, but there’s a trend. Pointing is better than not pointing. Gazing is better than just looking straight ahead. But there’s one critical caveat: high emotion seems to be best of all.


  • When you want people to look at a particular place on a screen or page, put a picture of someone who looks really excited next to the part of the page where you want people to look.
  • Although it’s true that people will look where a face is looking, when you use a face that’s displaying a lot of emotion, people are more inclined to take action.
  • If you don’t want to use a picture of a person gazing at a certain spot, you can use an arrow pointing to where you want your audience to look. An arrow is just as effective as a gazing face, but neither is as effective as a face displaying positive, excited emotion.


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