> Gestalt laws, foreground – background

Our ability to see and interpret what we perceive is, among other things, the subject of perception psychology and specifically the gestalt laws. The gestalt laws structure some basic elements that influence the way we perceive our surrounding world.

In an earlier article, I show the phenomenon we, or a camera, look through reflections in glass, that I think shows a fascinating ability of our mind.
Gestalt psychology discuss our ability to perceive something meaningful in a world of chaotic phenomena.


The picture with the Dalmatian is a good illustration of our ability, sometimes inability, to discern meaningful information.

I have taken a classic picture and tried to clarify it so that it’s easier to see the young woman, or the old woman that are contained in the picture.

A classic picture with double meaning …


A young woman turns her head away, an old woman looks down …

What we see in a picture is affected by how we focus, how we turn our attention.

But our viewpoint is largely based on past experiences and interpretations.

According to information from brain researchers, our eyes takes in large amount of information but this is weighted and filtered with previous memories.
When we look at a scene, the visual center process the information, but six times more information is added than was perceived. We see with our experiences and mind.

We have complete scenarios in our memory that help us to interpret and understand. We do not need to put much energy into understanding the tree we see in the street, because we simply declare the tree as just a general tree, unless we are particularly interested in trees or something special in the tree.

Lets examine an other multistable image made by the Swiss artist Sandro Del-Prete.

A picture with several messages … © Sandro Del-Prete

It is alleged that adults mostly only see a love couple, while younger children almost only see a number of dolphins. Adults look from another horizon and experience.

According to the artist, a couple of nuns were irritated about the picture when exhibited at the Museum of Science in Boston, it was an exhibition about illusions.
But the nuns where silenced when it was pointed out to them that the interpretation of the image is strongly associated with personal experience.

Here is a variation in which the “hidden elements” in the image are highlighted.

Another popular picture from the net, in this case enhanced with a little color.

Another popular image from the web.
Depending on how one focus attention, the front of the cube can change location.
When focusing on the “back” -surface, then the front faces upwards, and focusing on the “front” -surface, the front side faces downwards.

The context in an image can lead to different interpretations. Depending on size, images may have varying meanings. The size and scale of the subject affect how we interpret the content.


> What we see, our vision.

We often see more than the eye perceives.
Compare what a camera sees in a reflective area against what we perceive of what appears behind the glass.

There is an interesting area within psychology called gestalt psychology.
Gestalt psychology tries to describe how our perception works, how we compile and interpret our visual impressions and create an understandable image in our minds.
Amongst other, it says that “The whole is other than the sum of the parts” (Wikipedia).

And what can this really mean, how does it work?
An example is the following pictures. To many viewers, there are only a lot of black spots – because they seem to lack context.

At the end of the page, for those of you seeing only meaningless spots, the images are clarified. Usually, after having realized what the pictures represent, you will immediately recognize and see what the spots represents when you encounter the image again.

When looking at a window, for some reason you do not have any major issues to see what appears behind the glass. A camera though sees things different.
If you instead focus on the glass surface on the display window, I’m usually fascinated by how the eyes can see through all the disturbing reflections and, basically, just see what is being placed behind the mirroring glass.
I see it as evidence of the high ability of our eyesight and a little evidence of what gestalt psychology talks about. It’s a lot about on what and how we focus our attention, and how the mind interprets.

So, roughly, this is what it might look in reality – at least in my reality.
I experimented and photographed some glass surfaces. Then, with retouch, I created some simulated images of how I perceive glass surfaces and reflections, which to me is a big difference. My mind manages to filter away much of the reflections that block the picture the camera records.

This is what the camer depicts ….                                                     … this is what my mind sees.
first as the camera depicts …                                                                                  … what i see when i look …

The pictures from above – with some interpretation help 🙂


> Imaging – experience. What do we see ?

A camera is a device that by its best effort is trying to depict a scene.
What we (I) feel when we look at a scene might be very different

They are in different moods and different experiences that constantly affect the interpretation of what we see.

I have sometimes ended up in the discussion of what you can, and can not do to an image.
A documentary picture is supposed to show what happened in a scene. It may seem obvious that you should not retouch and change in a documentary image – that could be like distorting the truth.
On the other hand, by just turning the camera a bit, or cropping the image afterwards, the perception of the image may be radically different.
Other images intend to create or reproduce a specific atmosphere.
That is where I often find myself in my pictures. Then the picture from the camera becomes a raw material that may need different amounts of work to be in harmony with my memory of the moment or what I want the moment to be.

The camera has quite some limitations that affect the resulting picture.
As an illustration to this, look at the pictures below. The first picture shows what the camera recorded, in this case yet developed to lighten the shade and save some of the high-lights. The second picture reflects my impression of the scene, what my eyes could see, my memory of the experience.

How the camera recorded the scene …

As I remember the scene.

It was at least an hour before sunset, and at theat time it is generally light outside. Not at all so dark as the camera sees it.

The image examples show the difficulty with dynamic range. Our eyes have much broader range than a professional camera.
In addition, our eyes move around quickly back and forth in a scene, something we don’t think of, or even perceive. Our vision “film” the scene and compensates, so to speak, exposure all the time and creates the picture in our mind.

Dynamic range can serve as an illustrative example – there are many other, less obvious effects that influence our interpretation. Mood and the focus you have for the moment can give radically different interpretations of the same situation.

More before – after pictures; what the camera saw and as I remember it (or prefer to remember …).
Picture order; first what the camera saw – then my interpretation.

So the question is how much can you attribute a camera’s objectivity – and which is the impression I have from the moment, what do I want to convey and emphasise.

> Own eye-track – paragliders

Now it’s time for the second of my own images and tests.

The tests of PaperSense project compared the effect of the presentation on screen or printed on paper, with or without people in the pictures, and also how different complexity of the image composition influence how we look at images.
The three pictures that got the most attention were all simpler and cleaner in composition. Hardly a surprise – a clean and clear composition is easier to comprehend.

In my analysis, I usually use image manipulation in Photoshop to create different versions of an original image. Then you can see effects and compare how different details or compositions perform.
In this test, I have presented two versions of an image to 4 different participants (plus myself), two of which are highly trained in images and two less interested in pictures. Three are around 60 years of age, one is only 9 years.

– The original version is already partly manipulated, I have arranged the paragliders to, in my opinion, form a nicer group.
The picture composition opens up to the right, and thus is slightly closed from left side. The picture is falling out to the right and thereby becomes a little unbalanced.
– The manipulated image is mirrored and catches the eye better, giving a calmer composition. Moreover, I have removed some disturbing details on the ground, as well as a bird in the sky. I think this version is better balanced and more peaceful.

According to the eye-tracking test, the manipulated image received 20% more attention in total than the original.
Now, the test group is small, so we can not draw big conclusions from the test. The pictures were shown for 8 seconds and were part of a suite of about 35 images. There were some other pictures in between, so they do not come directly after each other.
– When regarding the total eye-tracking, the effect of the retouch is evident. The picture turns out more concentrated, which is my intention.
– I also show some videos where you can follow the eyes of the various test persons while the looked at the pictures.
The videos reveal two main strategies when looking; focused or general scanning. Furthermore, you can also see that almost all start watching the paragliders, then the ground and then the rest of the image.

The original image; the paragliders though are modified, see below.

Detailed Picture of the paragliders as they were grouped when photographed.

Modified picture, mirrored and some retouch. My choise.

The combined, total eye-tracking, of five people.

The original picture, looking a little more fragmented than the subsequently retouched version.

The modified picture, more concentrated as indicated by the eye-tracking, which is what I intended.

Below is a gallery in which you can flip through the different results.
Further down you will also find video recordings.
At some points, there is a big difference in what the heat-maps show and what the films show. That’s because if you move your eyes very quickly, then the software don’t interpret a fixation and produces a coloured spot. However, one can in detail follow how the eye wandered around in the picture when looking at the video.
All tests are shown in the same order, first the original image, then the modified picture:
Female artist
Young girl, nine years
Man, around 60 years
Me, Bengt.

Below are video recordings of each eye tracking.

Film – Original image: Artist

Film – Original image: Photographer

Film – Original image: Girl in nine years

Film – Original image: Man 60 years

Film – Original image: Bengt

Film – Modified photo: Artist

Film – Modified image: Photographer

Film – Modified image: nine years

Film – Modified image: 60 years

Film – Modified picture: Bengt

Overview of all PaperSense pictures

In this gallery you find all the images that were included in the tests.
The images are synchronized for quick and lean switch between the different variations in order to easy grasp the differences.
The original pictures used in the test are from IKEA and are copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

The images are displayed in order, and:
-> Original with people, then printed on paper, then as shown on screen.
-> Original without people, then printed, then on the screen.

« 1 of 2 »

PaperSense 4 – media and human presence.

This is the last article about the PaperSense project. Now presenting the last four images with associated heat maps.

This is a non-academic publication, based on my personal reflections on a highly interesting research project that I was partly involved in.

Here are three new images with analysis and data that emerged under the leadership of including Siv Lindberg and Annika Lindström at Innventia in Stockholm.
The original pictures used for the test were provided by IKEA and are copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

The highly interesting topic: Where did the test persons look when two main issues were investigated:
– Is there a difference in the amount of attention when an image is presented on paper or a screen,
– How much influence has the presence of a person in the image on the amount of attention you give the image.

Among the four photos are the three that got highest attention value in respect of the total amount.

Picture 5, a medium complex picture.
PaperSense - pict 5 - with people
Original pictures copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

This picture came second of 12, the total value is 3391.

The picture is bright with a clear composition. The situation between the characters is also clear and easily recognisable. The image has a blend of warm and cold light that enhances the situation between the people. This picture, with people, presented on paper, gets the highest position of all in the test.

The version with people printed on paper 1762, while the screen version got 572, down to 32% for the screen version.
The version without people on paper, 762, and 295 for the version presented on screen, down to 39%.

Picture 05. Without people.
PaperSense - pict 5 - no persons

When the people are gone, the attention drops to 43% in the paper version. The monitor version without people drops to about 50%.
The screen version is rather popular and ends up on the 2nd and 3rd place.

Picture 6, a dark kitchen, with a boy.
PaperSense - pict 6 - with person

A rather dark picture with a straight composition, but where focus points are scattered. Its place is in the middle, as number 5 out of 12.

A peculiar detail in the image is the black clock, hiding on the dark wall. It looks to be second in place after the boy’s face. Interesting that we are so curious about time, especially in an image where the clock has no practical information to provide on time.

The version with people printed on paper 969, while the screen version got 581 down to 60% for the screen version.
The version without people on paper, 566, and 194 for the version presented on screen, down to 34%.

PaperSense - pict 6 - without person

Picture 06, without people

The image without the boy gets lower attention values. But even in this version, without people, our interest in time is revealed by the heat maps, despite the low visibility of the clock.
The screen version, without people, lands on 3rd last position.

Picture 7, with a woman and a girl. A picture of average complexity, 8 out of 12.
PaperSense - pict 7 - with people

A picture with a lot of light, light elements and focal points, with central perspective.
The girl in the centre of the picture is caught in a movement that makes her lean forward giving a different tension.
This picture is a little below average in placement. I had expected more from the image, as it is clear and bright.
Note the soft toy that has attracted a lot of attention.

The version with people printed on paper 811, while the screen version got 356, down to 44% for the screen version.
The version without people on paper, 718, and 287 for the version presented on screen, down to 40%.

PaperSense - pict 7 - without person

Picture 07. Without people

When the image is shown without people, the bed in the centre with the cushions draw the most attention. The soft toy still raises interest despite its peripheral location.
These two versions, without people, are placed better among the twelve, place 4 and 3.

Picture 9: Top image, first place, with a smiling girl.
PaperSense - pict 9 - with person

Winner in total, attention value is 3400, premiere place of the 12.
The version presented on screen is the number 1, and the corresponding printed version is on second place.
The version without the girl, on display ports, lower down, even in the version without people on paper.
A clear and straightforward image, with a person looking happily straight into the camera, which most probably earns it the high attention value.

The heat maps show that the girl attracts a lot of attention. But we can probably still assume that the couch also shares some of the attention. The model is in a tyoical position for sofas.

Version with 1648 people on paper, 947 on-screen, down to 57%.
Version without people 578 paper, 227 on-screen, down to 39%.

PaperSense - pict 9 - without person

Picture 09. Without people

The same picture now without the girl. The eye follows the details and less the surfaces. In the version without the girl, the product picture land in the middle amongst the twelve. A straightforward composition.

PaperSense 3 – media and human presence.

In previous articles, I gave some background information about the research project as such.
Now is time for three more images.

This is a non-academic publication, based on my personal reflections on a highly interesting research project that I have been partly involved in.

Here are three new images with analysis and data that emerged under the leadership of including Siv Lindberg and Annika Lindström at Innventia in Stockholm.
The original pictures used for the test were provided by IKEA and are copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

Continuing on the theme: Where do the test persons focus their gaze, and the main issues were;
– Is there a difference of attention when an image is presented on paper or on a screen.
– Has the presence of a person in an image influence on the amount of attention you give the image.

Picture 4, with people.
PaperSense - pict 4. With people.
Original pictures copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

Picture 4. A kitchen picture that got medium interest of the twelve regarding attention value; place six.
The picture has cold tones, is rather dark, has a clear perspective, people are barely visible, it has many elements, it has dark shadows, the focus is on the kitchens island in the middle of the image.

The picture got higher values ​​than I expected, especially in the version with people presented on paper, where it reached the second position of the twelve.

The version without people on screen (pictured below), got second highest attention value.
Meanwhile, the corresponding image without people, printed on paper, got the next lowest position of twelve.
In other words, some contradictory results.

The total amount of attention for this picture is 2229, place 6 out of 12.
The version with people printed on paper 988, while the screen version got 325, down to 33% for the screen version.
The version without people on paper, 580, and 336 for the version presented on screen, down to 58%.

Picture 4, without persons.
PaperSense - pict 4. Without people.

The picture without people presented on display, stands out as it gets the second best place in that particular group (without people, on a screen).
My expectation was that the picture, amongst other, depending on its darkness would be less popular. But maybe the light areas in the darkness, like the dining area, creates a positive contrast.

Picture 2, with a mother and a baby.
PaperSense - pict 2. With people.

Figure 2. This image is also found in the middle of popularity regarding the total value of attention.
The picture is bright, has warm tones, has a central perspective, has a more visible person with a baby. The picture, however, contains many elements, and it has not such a clear focus, i.e, it simultaneously displays various kind of rooms, such as bedroom, living room and kitchen. It got unexpectedly low attention figures given the character of the picture; visible person carrying a baby in a warm and light atmosphere.

One can speculate that this single picture is taken out of context. In a layout it is probably complemented by headlines and text about compact living, which might render it more logical.

The total amount of attention for this picture is 2216, position 7 out of 12.
The version with people printed on paper 1139, while the screen version got 470, down to 24%.
The version without people on paper, 476, and 131 for the version presented on screen, down to 36%.

Picture 2, without people.
PaperSense - pict 2. Without people.

The picture without people.
I find it even more unexpected when I check the figures of this version, without people; in both cases (screen and paper) the pictures lands on the last or second last position of all the pictures in terms of attention value.
The picture is characterised, among others, of light and warmth. Maybe it would benefit of better support from headlines and text explaining compact living.

Picture 12, with people.
PaperSense - pict 12. With people.

This image reached the third best place in terms of total amount of attention.
It has more neutral tones, exposes much person (the child), has a strong perspective, the products are barely visible in the version with the child, and there are few elements in the picture.
The second variant, without the child, has a clearer view of the product. It got unexpectedly high attention value in the version without people, on paper, position 1 of 12. Even in the version without the people on screen, it reached the first position.

The version with people have very strong focus on the child, and the picture is more of a portrait which naturally should give high attention.

The total amount of attention for this picture is 3303, position 3 out of 12.
The version with people printed on paper 1219, while the screen version got 768, down to 63%.
The version without people on paper, 857, and 463 for the version presented on screen, down to 54%.

Picture 12, without the person.
PaperSense - pict 12. Without people.

The picture without people.
A bright and clear display of product with unexpectedly high attention value. The versions without people are on first position.
The product is separated from other elements in the image which can contribute to its relatively high response in this version where there are no people in the picture.

> My own eye-tracking. Sunset at Skagen.

This is a non-academic publication, on blog -level. The article emanates from my private thoughts about picture composition in relation to what the eye registers.

I collect material for a book about image composition. The book is partly based on established rules of composition, but with variations in images that has been manipulated. Furthermore, it is to contain my homemade eye-tracking to show what the eye cares about.

This article is a test that circles around a picture of a few people at a beach on a summer evening.
In this test case I do not show possible options in the composition of the picture, but only shows the results of an eye-tracking session in which three people took part. I displayed the test picture at two occasions, about 15 mins apart.
Using only three test persons, myself included, is unscientific. If you want to be able to prove something with certainty, you should have at least a group of 30 people or more. But – I am at the moment more interested in qualitative differences in how we read pictures.
Therefore this little test may give some interesting reflections and insights which can be used for further investigations.

The image has some various aspects;
– It show an evening by the sea, which you can associate with calm and pleasantness
– The people in the picture seems to be in a different state of mind, the person in the wheelchair with two people around in one mood, while the young people on the right seems playful.
– One can’t see the faces and the expressions.
– Image composition is simple and clean with no distractions. The image is centred on the group of people.

During the test, the picture was displayed for 8 seconds. The image was part of a test suite of 34 different images. (about eye-tracking)

The eye-tracking results of each test person is shown and a heat-map where the results of all three are combined. Further down in the article you can find recordings of the eye movements.
The test involved a girl of 9 years, a man of 60 years and me (61 years) who have taken the image and selected it. The girl nine years, is not particularly interested in pictures. The man of 60 years, is interested in film and video, but do not work in the field. I (Bengt) is an expert in pictures – that is, self-appointed.

Wheelchair – sunset at Skagen

An image that opens up for different personal interpretations depending on the viewer’s own state of mind, background and experience.

Combined heat maps
Heat-maps of; girl nine years, man 60, me 61 and a combined of all three.

The picture above shows the three persons focus in the picture. The last picture labelled “All 3 combined” shows the total focus of the three test persons.
The heat maps show diverse interest for the image, some focus more on the group, others show more interest for the environment around the group.

Below are three videos, each of which replays how the eyes wandered around while the persons looked at the picture. The film shows in which order the image was watched, and in what way it happened.
The entire sequence of 8 seconds is shown. Usually, the first 2 – 3 seconds are interesting while one tries to understand the picture before exploring it more thoroughly.
In the films, we see how jerky the eyes sees, which is called saccades.

Eye-tracking, girl nine years. Test 1 and 2.

Eye-tracking, man 60 years. Test 1 and 2.

Eye-tracking, Bengt, author, age 61. Test one and two.

An extra test, an artist (only one test run).

Eye tracking research; PaperSense 2.

This is a non-academic publication, based on my personal reflections on a highly interesting research project that I have been partly involved in.

In the previous article, No. 1, some background information was given about the research project itself. If you want to read more about it, follow this link.

This article presents three new pictures with the analysis and data that emerged under the leadership of including Siv Lindberg and Annika Lindström at Innventia in Stockholm.
The pictures used for the test were provided by IKEA and are copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

Again interesting and revealing heat maps show where the test persons focused their gaze during the test:
– Examine whether there is a difference of attention when an image is presented on paper or a screen,
– Investigate how much influence the presence of a person in the picture has to the attention given to the picture.

Again, the results are strong. When the results were compiled and calculated the first time after the test, the differences were so extraordinary compared to what one is used to seeing in research, that it was assumed that the test data or calculations were wrong. So all was trashed and recompiled from the beginning.
But the large differences were of the same magnitude.
– When the image appears on paper, it gets up to twice the amount of attention, sometimes more, compared to when the image is shown on a screen.
– When the image contains people, it catches up to three times as much attention.

Are there any obvious signs and differences in the pictures, which can be attributed to the impact of image composition?
The answer to that question is both yes and no.
When an image is more colourful and cleaner in its composition, it gets higher rashes, while a cluttered, dark and indistinct image gets punished with a lower amount of attention. The presence of people in the image often raises the amount of attention, in some few cases although people have limited impact.

Eye-tracking can provide interesting conclusions about the composition of the picture and its implications on the viewer.
But an effect following this type of experiment is that the information and task you give to the test persons affects how they look in the pictures. Even if one gives general and neutral instructions, the situation is still a test. It might give rise to a kind of loyalty in which the test person look a little different than when you’re sitting at home flipping through pages, in print or on the Web.
So we can assume that during an eye tracking test, people may look a little extra, maybe to try to discover something that they think the experimenter wants them to find. Probably test persons are more alert and attentive than in a relaxed situation.

Some pictures from the Paper Sense, Part II.
Now follows three pictures of the test suite. These images are the three pictures that ended last among the twelve in the suite, concerning the total value of attention in the images.

Picture 1, kitchen 1 – with people. Lowest ranking, position 12 of 12.
PaperSense - pict 01. With people.
All original pictures copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

This image is somewhat cluttered in terms of composition. Although it has a central perspective, which often is described as to lead the eyes into a picture. And the eyes will be directed towards the bright windows in the background where two people are clearly depicted. A child can be seen in the sofa with red pillow in the foreground.
This picture actually gets the lowest attention value, regarding the total sum of all the twelve tested images.
The version printed on paper gets value 543, while the screen version get the value 261, which is down to 48%.

Kitchen 1 – kitchen without people.
PaperSense - pict 01. No people.

The kitchen is now without people and is slightly quieter and less cluttered. The heat maps show that the eye wandered around a bit more in the picture.
The version printed on paper gets value 481, the screen version gets value 195, a decrease of 89% and 75% respectively of the values that ​​was observed when people were present in the picture.
The total value of this picture is 1480, which results in the lowest amount of all tested images.
An explanation for the low amount, despite the central perspective, can be that the picture has a complicated structure and lacks clear focus points that the eyes can find interesting.
I think the picture is built according to recognised rules of composition, but the image itself lacks charisma, and does not have much to tell.
Good composition can hardly compensate for weak charisma.

Picture 03, kitchen 2, with dog and people. Place 10 of 12.
PaperSense - pict 03. With people.

Once again a kitchen, now with an active person and a dog. The image is built around a central perspective and is compared to the previous image cleaner and simpler in structure. The picture gives a warmer impression with more color contrast and clearer focus points for the eyes to attach to.
Yet this image gets rather low attention value. Compared with the previous image, with the lowest value of all the images, this image is only third in place from the bottom.
The version printed on paper gets value 721, the screen version gets value 356. The picture displayed on a screen only gets about 50% attention compared to the image viewed on paper.

Picture 03, kitchen 2 – without people.
PaperSense - pict 03. No people.

The kitchen now without person and dog.
The heat maps now show that the viewers look more around in the kitchen. One can see that the shiny dog bowl attracted some attention, even though it is in a corner.
The attention values now fall to about half when there are no people in the picture (the dog suddenly was classified as people).
The version printed on paper gets value 378, the screen version gets value 176, a decrease of 52% and 50% respectively compared to when there were the people in the picture.
As well in this version the attention drops below 50% when there are no people in the picture.
The total value of this picture is 1631, resulting in just about 10% more attention than the previous kitchen image.

Picture 10, a product image, partly with people. Place 11 of 12.
PaperSense - pict 10. With people.

The following image has more character of a product picture, where neither the couch or the person is shown in full. The composition is straight and simple, with rising lines that leads to a person sitting on the armrest. The colours and the environment are unspectacular apart from the pillow.
The heat maps reaffirm that a person attracts the most attention, even though we can not see the face of the person.
The screen version gets value 197 and the version printed on paper gets value 628. The picture displayed on screen gets only about 31% attention compared to the image viewed on paper.

Picture 10, without people.
PaperSense - pict 10. No people.

The picture without a person, a product picture with a colourless sofa or armchair.
The screen version which had people in it got value 197, while the version on screen without people got value 272, a sudden increase, plus 38%.
Still, in the absence of people, the attention is reduced to about 50% compared to when we have people partly visible in the picture.

It is understandable that the first dark kitchen and the product image with sofa/ chair are low in popularity.
But I am confused by the second kitchen with the dog, which received such low values. We have the values 1480 – 1606 – 1631.

So, we can see where the eyes have looked in the pictures and how much they have looked, but we can not look into the mind of the test persons and find out what they thought about the pictures during the test.

Eye tracking research; PaperSense 1. The effect of different media and human presence in pictures.

This is a non-academic publication, based on my personal reflections on a highly interesting research project that I have been partly involved in.

PaperSense – a research project  investigating the differences between how we perceive pictures when they are presented on a screen, or on paper, and how the presense of a person in the pictures influences what we look at.

The papersense project covered many aspects of information and marketing in various media.
The pictures used for the test were provided by IKEA and are copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

PaperSense - pict 08. With people.
The pictures are presented further down. Each picture is a combination of the original picture, a diagram, the version as presented on screen, and lastly the paper version. Original pictures copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

I was involved in a part of the project, where;
– we investigated the influence of the actual media on which test pictures were presented, i.e.; on a computer screen or printed on paper.
– at the same time we made a comparison with a person present and not present in the pictures.

To better understand the underlying processes, eye tracking was used on test persons to measure eye movement and visual attention when viewing different pictures. To complete the investigation, questions were presented to further collect data about the pictures presented and their effect.

To read more about eye tracking, please see page What is eye-tracking.

The pictures were always presented in pairs; one picture without people, and a version with people present.
The pictures were chosen to represent different levels of complexity, a room setting was used to represent a complex picture, and a product picture to represent a simpler composition.
The pictures were supplied by IKEA and some appeared in the catalogue around 2009 – 2010.
Two test groups were used. Each group consisting of 30 women between the ages of 25-35 One group viewed all the pictures on a computer screen. The other group viewed the same pictures printed on paper. Each picture was presented for 5 seconds.

The results.
The collected data from the eye tracking was analysed and the amount of attention spent on each picture was evaluated. This is presented as heat maps, which reveals how much attention the eyes spend at different areas of a picture. It is assumed that a high amount of interest (yellow and red on the heat map) tells that a person might be interested in what they focus on, but it might also indicate that the person can not figure out what is being reviewed.

The results showed that when the pictures were presented on paper, measurements indicated a significant increase in attention, implying that the test persons took in much more information than when the same pictures were presented on a computer screen.
Differences in attention for pictures presented on paper was sometimes more than plus 50% compared to screen presentation.
When people were present in the picture, the attention was sometimes more than plus 75% more compared to the pictures without people.

In this test, it was obvious that we seem to take in more information from pictures when they are presented on paper. The test, however, does not say anything abut the reasons for this somewhat overwhelming fact.

Eye tracking as such is very interesting in relation to picture composition. I think very much is revealed when we see the heat map clouds that show where the eyes often focus, while the areas with low attention can be equally interesting.
The presence of people in the pictures is also exciting. Much more information was taken in when people were present in the pictures, with most focus on the faces, less on the surroundings.
The test persons also answered a questionnaire which showed that the pictures with people, were regarded as warmer than without.

One reaction I got when showing the results of the tests, was that there should be no people at all in pictures when one wants to sell furniture. On the other hand it might very well be that the presence of people is what makes a person actually see a particular picture in a flow (we very seldom see pictures isolated, single handed) and possibly see the products that we hope to make them realise are needed in their daily life.

Two of the pictures and some reflections.

I see some important lessons from the tests;
– pictures presented on paper possibly transmit far more information to the viewer.
– pictures containing people attract much more attention from the viewer.
– people in pictures create a warmer atmosphere.

About the pictures: Each picture is a combination of the original picture, a diagram of the attention values and the superimposed heatmaps.
Please note; the heat maps are always relative, meaning that they show where the eyes looked the most in a particular picture, indicated by red colour.
But you need to look and evaluate the calculated attention to see the actual total amount. The red in one picture may indicate 100, and in an other picture 1500.
PaperSense combined picture explained

A medium complex picture, with people.
PaperSense - pict 08. With people.

The first version has people, children, present in the picture. The heat maps on both the screen version (big, left) and the paper version (big, right) clearly show that the faces of the children attract most attention in the picture. The calculated attention value is 666 for the screen version, where the paper version shows a value of 992, which is plus 49%.
The clouds of the heat map from the paper version show that attention has been paid to other areas of the picture as well.

The second version of the picture is without people.
PaperSense - pict 08. No people.

The heat maps are similar to the previous version of the picture, which had children in it. This is possibly due to the composition which has a lot of red colour in the centre, where the children were in the former picture. The sofa is the natural centre in the composition.
In this version the eyes have moved a little more around the scene, especially true for the screen version.
It still seems obvious that the red coloured sofa has gotten most of the test persons attention, which possibly is the aim of this picture.
The calculated amount of attention has fallen down to 35% in the picture shown on screen. A rather low figure.
The picture shown on paper has now reduced to 65% compared to the version with the children. A viewer would possibly move on to the following pictures without paying much attention to these pictures. In this case, one can conclude that the picture without people on screen is rather uninteresting.

This picture is a more product like picture, but still somewhat complex. Partly with people.
PaperSense - pict 11. With people.

The first version has people present in the picture, although not very visible. The heat maps on both the screen version (big, left) and the paper version (big, right) shows that the hands of the person attracts the most attention in the picture (and even a little on the shoes).
The calculated attention value is 254 for the screen version, where the paper version shows a value of 699, which is plus 275%, a rather big difference.

The calculated attention values however are low compared to the previous picture, the red sofa with the children.

The second version of the picture has no hints of people in it.
PaperSense - pict 11. No people.

The heat maps are similar to the previous version of the picture. The composition is supposed to draw attention to the open drawers and their function, which is confirmed by the heat maps.
It is a little strange to see that the calculated amount of attention now is almost the same in the picture shown on screen, regardless of the presence of the person.
The picture shown on paper, is now reduced to 74% attention compared to the version with the partly visible person.
I also find it interesting to compare this picture, to the picture with the red sofa without people, where the interest rate is almost on the same low level.

One obvious conclusion is that when the person in the picture does not reveal their face, the attention to the picture is lower. The concealed person is now an attribute amongst others in the picture.

This was the first article about the papersense project.
More pictures and comparisons are to come.

Comments on posts

One can now write comments to posts, but the comments must be approved before appearing on the page. May take some time (i am working during the days).

coffe-commentI am very curious to get response and find new perspectives about pictures and the way pictures work within us.

Feedback is the nourishment of knowledge 🙂

Relative and absolute values …

I’ll publish some interesting information about a research project where we, amongst other, compared pictures with people, and then the same picture but now without people.

PaperSense with - without people in a picture.
PaperSense; with – without people in a picture. The difference between the left and the right picture is significant. The left picture got 472 in attention and the right only 131 – a drop to 28%. The heat maps though make it look that the right picture was paid much more attention to.

Original pictures copyright Inter IKEA Systems B.V.

Eye-tracking was used to capture the differences. As the picture above shows, much focus is spent on the person in the picture.
But the heat maps, as the overlays with green to red colours, are called, just show the relative difference. There can be a substantial difference between two pictures showing similar heat maps, but I will note the figures of the total amount for each picture.
The picture with the person attracted up to three times more attention in total.

About picture composition and eye-tracking …


I write articles in this web place based on my reflections about pictures, picture composition, my eye-tracking experiments and research I have been part of.
The eye tracking experiments I perform, are on a non scientific level as I do not have any academic education in the area, and dont work according to established scientific methods.

A real world picture; the left shows the picture it self, to the right superimposed with heat maps and scan path of several test persons.

I collect material for a book about picture composition where I also use eye-tracking to investigate further how people react to pictures. Adding eye-tracking to the analysis of pictures gives an extra dimension and can hopefully open up for interesting insights.
The test persons I use are what can be related to as normal, everyday people, not particularly interested in pictures. I think that count more than investigating the view of experts in the area.

To learn a little more about eye-tracking, have a look at an introduction to eye-tracking.