bar charts. Bar charts were used because they are the natural choice for
displaying multiple measures3 and the
most effective way to compare values
11 It recruited 30 information systems graduate students
from IS analysis and design courses
at Texas A&M International University, Laredo, TX, as subjects. These
students also took graduate statistics
courses and were thus familiar with
the elements of dashboards, including graphs and tables. Small samples
are typical in eye-tracking studies due
to the limited availability of equipment
and the large amount of time required
to collect each set of observations.
The subjects were asked to answer
questions based on two dashboards:
What two subcategories of office supplies have the same sales (to test the
overuse of colors in Figure 1)? and For
which product type is the difference in
profit between the major market and
the small market the smallest (to test
the misuse of colors in Figure 2)?
Hypotheses and Design
Viewers engage in cognitive processes
to perform decision-making tasks.
Two such types of processes are “
incidental processing” and “essential
10 The former does not
require making sense of the presented material, whereas the latter does.
Moreover, they can be related to the
concepts of “System 1” and “System
2,” the two basic modes of thought
in the human mind.
8 System 1 is the
brain’s fast, automatic, and intuitive
approach; System 2 is the mind’s slower, analytical mode, where reason dominates.
8 System 1 operates involuntarily
and impulsively with little effort; System 2 allocates effort to the cognitive
activities demanding attention.
Viewers of dashboards with overuse
or misuse of colors show evidence of
System 1 processing. When contrast-
ing colors are used, our brains attempt
to assign meaning to the colors.
ers are thus directed spontaneously to
the areas where the colors are present.
These viewers also show use of System 2
processing because this processing is
activated when they deliberately pay at-
tention to the decision-making task. In
contrast, viewers of dashboards with-
out overuse or misuse of colors avoid
System 1 processing and focus on Sys-
tem 2 processing instead, requiring
less time to perform the task.
Recording eye fixations can reveal
the amount of information processed.
A longer fixation duration might indi-
cate difficulty extracting information
from the displayed area.
7 A high fixation
count and longer fixation duration are
thus indicative of cognitive overload.
Accordingly, here is the first hypothesis
regarding the overuse of colors.
Hypothesis 1. For a dashboard-relat-
ed task, viewers using dashboards with
overuse or misuse of colors have a high-
er overall fixation number and longer
fixation time than viewers with dash-
boards with no such overuse or misuse.
Tests can be devised to determine
whether viewers of dashboards with
misuse of colors engage in System 1
processing first before System 2 proc-
essing. If there is evidence of this se-
quence, it will provide insight into
the viewers’ decision-making process.
Such evidence can be collected by
comparing task-relevant and task non-
relevant areas of the dashboard with
misuse of colors, as in Figure 1. It can
be predicted that viewers will engage
in System 1 processing because they
would be immediately directed to the
task non-relevant areas. Subsequently,
to complete the task, the viewers must
consciously engage in System 2 proc-
essing by referring to the task-relevant
areas. This sequence of engagement
can be identified through the eye met-
ric known as “first fixation time.”
First fixation time is used as a mea-
sure of attention to show how quickly
one looks at a certain element on a
6 It is measured as the start
time of the first fixation on the display
area. Eye-tracking software marks a
specific area of the dashboard in order
to identify the viewer’s eye movements
in that area. If a viewer looks at a task
non-relevant area at the start of the
viewing time (such as the fifth second
in a total viewing time of 30 seconds),
then the area indeed attracted the
viewer’s immediate attention. Low first
fixation time thus indicates the area at-
tracted attention quickly, meaning the
following hypothesis can be proposed:
Hypothesis 2. Compared to a dash-
board that does not misuse colors, view-
ers of a dashboard that misuses colors
will have a low first fixation time on task
non-relevant areas and a high first fixa-
should avoid the
of colors in business