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Towards incorporating personality into the

design of an interface: a method for facilitating
users’ interaction with the display

Article in User Modeling and User-Adapted Interaction · February 2018

DOI: 10.1007/s11257-018-9201-1


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2 authors:

Samer Sarsam Hosam Al-Samarraie

Universiti Sains Malaysia Universiti Sains Malaysia


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User Model User-Adap Inter

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an

interface: a method for facilitating users’ interaction
with the display

Samer Muthana Sarsam1 · Hosam Al-Samarraie1

Received: 21 July 2017 / Accepted in revised form: 7 February 2018

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Abstract A novel user interface (UI) design based on the personality characteristics
of users was proposed and examined in a mobile learning context. It was argued that
differences in personality can stimulate individuals’ information processing capabili-
ties in according to their display preferences, thus an effective visual experience. The
personality characteristics and design preferences of 87 students (37 male, and 50
female) were collected and analysed. The clustering result (using k-means algorithm)
revealed two potential personality types, which we call the neuroticism and the extra-
conscientiousness groups. Then, an interface was designed for each personality group
using the association rules method. An eye-tracking device was used to record changes
in participants’ eye-pupil diameter and fixation duration, and thus examine their cogni-
tive load and attention. The participants’ eye movement data of each group showed that
their visual experience was significantly improved when using the interface designed
based on their personality characteristics. This work offers some important design and
practical insights to the human–computer interaction and the design of mobile device

Keywords UI design · Personality · Eye-movements · User experience · Interaction ·


B Hosam Al-Samarraie;

1 Centre for Instructional Technology and Multimedia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Gelugor, Penang,

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

1 Introduction

The focus of the field of Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) has slightly shifted from
conventional design to understanding and assessing user experience design based on
certain psychological features (De Oliveira et al. 2012). According to Rogers et al.
(2007), when building interactive environments, the user’s interaction-centered expe-
rience with a display should be considered by stimulating the user’s learning behavior
about the display objects. In addition, a current key topic in design research is mainly
devoted to understand the manner in which individuals’ psychological characteristics
can be used to inform our design practices for facilitating effective cognitive con-
trol (Farzan et al. 2011). This involves identifying and customizing display elements
according to factors related to users’ thought processes, feelings, and behavior. Iden-
tifying the design elements in accordance with individuals’ personality characteristics
appears to be a promising strategy (de Oliveira et al. 2011); thus, a design approach is
needed to guide the design process. According to Cherubini et al. (2011), the apparent
limitation in personalizing the design of UI is one of the main barriers that prevent users
from using technology effectively. Thus, an understanding is required of the manner
in which an effective visual experience can be modulated by the user’s preferences in
an external context defined by his/her community. Many scholars have investigated
the impact of different notions for improving the user’s interactive experience through
featuring the design of UIs. For instance, Lan et al. (2013) indicated that personalizing
the design of an interface is commonly associated with user-centered designs that pro-
vide the necessary means for users to gain more control of the environment. Viveros
et al. (2014) showed that both personality and cognitive abilities of individuals can
influence the manner in which they perceive the design to be efficient. However, our
understanding of individuals’ personality characteristics, which vary from one user
to another, has yet to be implemented in the design of UI. This is simply because
the variation in individuals’ personality characteristics may be reflected in the differ-
ent behavioral aspects that influence the manner they use or adapt a system (Oliveira
et al. 2013). Since differences in our personality characteristics or nuances may com-
ply with certain preferences and tendencies to adopt particular habits or pattern in
context-specific settings (Butt and Phillips 2008), we were extremely motivated to
explore the association between personality characteristics and preferences to certain
interface design features in a mobile learning context. This assumption was, on the
other hand, supported in general by the clear evidence found in the literature of the
relation between individuals’ personality profile and their decision to adopt or use tech-
nology. Our choice of mobile learning context was mostly motivated by the numerous
challenges related to providing an effective, satisfying, and accessible learning expe-
rience in such context (Harpur and de Villiers 2015). Typically, this is because mobile
learning should be designed such that it enhances learners’ ability, regardless of time
and place (Crescente and Lee 2011). Capretz et al. (2012) stated that a particular UI
of a mobile learning application may include some unclear (hidden) options, which
makes it difficult for learners to adapt and use in learning. It is assumed that the cur-
rent design practices for mobile devices do not relate the display of design objects
to users’ preferences. In the light of this, we argued that incorporating personality

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

characteristics into the design of an interface would facilitate users’ visual experience
in a learning situation.

2 The study rational

The interplay between devices and users occurs through a graphical user interfaces
(GUIs) (Reis et al. 2012a). The sort of GUIs that are developed considering usability
patterns helps users to be familiar with the existed device functionalities. Designers
consider that the results of studying the relationship between individuals’ mental mod-
els and their experience using a design will help them build a better UI. A person’s
mental model is based on his/her beliefs related to what he/she knows (or thinks he/she
knows) about a system. However, the formation of a mental model varies from one
user to another and different users may construct different mental models of the same
UI. Since the current user-interface design practices can cause adaptability problems,
especially when a person has to use an environment with limited design character-
istics (Chen and Lin 2016), it led us to assume that such design practices in general
would properly lead to high-cognitive load, possibly, devoted to users’ experience in
familiarizing themselves with the logical structure of a specific design. According to
Zheng et al. (2012), it is evident that learners may face problems of attention and a high
cognitive load when using mobile devices. This, in turn, leads to other interaction-
related problems when learners attempt to navigate and browse the learning content
(Zheng et al. 2012). The importance of sustaining users’ attention toward the dis-
play is stemmed from the believe that design elements may distract users’ attention
while performing their tasks. In contrast, Thuneberg et al. (2015) pointed out that
people with different personality have different self-paced performance, so such peo-
ple have different level of attention. Meanwhile, cognitive load plays a pivotal part in
the construction, elaboration, and automation of individuals’ knowledge structures. It
is believed that the changes in personality types within a group or population have
substantial consequences for emerging social structure (Fehl et al. 2011). Due to the
fact that visualizations are meant to support complex thinking, our visual experience
may be more relevant to our personality nuances than other characteristics. This would
explain how differences in one’s personality traits can contribute to the way he/she
process the visualized elements (Ziemkiewicz et al. 2011). Zhao and Seibert (2006)
declared that people high in certain personality traits may process different behaviors
comparing to those with other traits, which can provide further help in understanding
the requirements of an environment in order to accommodate the behavior of that
particular trait.
Our review of the literature revealed a very limited evidence of the feasibility of
designing UIs in accordance with individuals’ personal characteristics. For example,
studies on UI design based on personal characteristics have verified the potential of
determining differences in individual personality for customizing the display in order
to meet certain demands (Karanam et al. 2014). This customization can be achieved
by determining certain design elements that accurately fit certain individual needs and
preferences. Because of the molecular levels of behavior (Furr 2009), Fleeson and
Noftle (2008) asserted that there is “very little knowledge about how personality is

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

present in behavior and about what behaviors are relevant to personality” which is
“partly because of the difficulty in specifying the level at which behavior should be
studied” (pp. 1668/1679). Therefore, we studied the role of personality characteristics
in the design of an interface in a mobile learning context. Eye-tracking technology
was used to further examine users’ perceptual experience in terms of their level of
attention and cognitive load when interacting with the design.

3 Personality in UI design

The design of the UI in this study was mainly based on collecting relevant information
about users’ personality characteristics and their preferences for design elements. A
clustering algorithm was used to group subjects on the basis of similarities of per-
sonality characteristics over all that were gathered. Then, an association rules method
was used to determine similarities between design elements of each participant group
(obtained from the clustering phase).

3.1 Participants

87 undergraduate students (37 male, and 50 female) were recruited in this study.
All participants had normal or corrected-to-normal vision. Participants’ ages ranged
between 18 to 23 years old (M  20.13, and SD  1.71). All participants were provided
written informed consent.

4 Design stage

A number of measures were taken in order to establish a comprehensive association

between the characteristics of personality traits and design preferences among indi-
viduals. An interview was conducted with each student to obtain inputs about these
characteristics. Prior to the interview session, we used the screen projector in the
computer lab to help clarify some essential points for answering the personality ques-
tionnaire, and to clarify the use of each design element to all participants. They were
encouraged to ask questions about these elements in relation to their daily use. We
also frequently used the mobile device to make item-description process clearer to
the participants during the interview session, along with providing vital examples and
vivid descriptions about the design elements. These measures helped participants to
understand how to respond to both personality and UI design questionnaires. Figure 1
shows these measures and their interrelationship. They are described in detail in the
subsections of this section.

4.1 Assessment of personality characteristics

According to McCrae and Costa (1985, 1987), the Big Five factors of personality are
neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. The Inter-
national Personality Item Pool Representation of the NEO PI-R™ (IPIP-NEO) found

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

Assessing individuals' design preferences Assessing individuals' personality characteristics

(colour, font type, layout, etc.) (the Big-Five personality traits)


Finding the cluster


K-means clustering

Place the membership values (personality Place the membership values (personality
characteristics and design preferences) for the characteristics and design preferences) for the
Neuroticism group Extra-conscientiousness group

Apply Apriori algorithm to suggest the design

Apply Apriori algorithm to suggest the design
rules for the Extra-conscientiousness UI
rules for the Neuroticism UI

Eye-tracking evaluation

Fig. 1 UI design stages

by Goldberg (1999) was used in this study in order to assess the subjects personal-
ity. It is known as “the Big Five” which includes 120-itmes based on the five likert
scale (very inaccurate, moderately inaccurate, neither accurate nor inaccurate, moder-
ately accurate, and very accurate). The IPIP-NEO questionnaire was administrated to
each participant at the beginning of this study followed by the UI design preferences

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

4.2 Assessment of design preferences

Responses to the UI instrument from 87 students were received, at this stage, where
the UI instrument (see supplementary) consists of multi-scale questions with graph-
ical aids was used to assess the users’ preferences of various design elements. The
instrument was divided into two sections. The first section consisted of design ele-
ments related to the structure (Chae and Kim 2004), navigation (Fleming and Koman
1998), layout (Basu 2013), font style attributes (Evett and Brown 2005), font size (Lee
et al. 2008), buttons (Kane et al. 2008), colour (Reinecke and Bernstein 2013), list
(Ribeiro and Carvalhais 2012), information density (Reinecke and Bernstein 2013),
support (Reinecke and Bernstein 2013), and alignment (GeiBler et al. 1999). The sec-
ond section consisted of open ended equations related to design principles (such as
quantity, clarity, simplicity, and affordance of the general design). These principles
were formed following the recommendations of Hewitt and Scardamalia (1998), and
Al-Samarraie et al. (2016). A face-to-face interview was conducted to determine par-
ticipants’ viewpoints about these design principles. This was essential to shape the
design of the interface for each personality cluster (group).
After collecting the data from the previous two assessments, we used Hierarchical
and K-means algorithms in order to group participants based on their shared personality
features and design preferences. These are explained in the next subsections below.

4.3 Hierarchical clustering

Hierarchical clustering is a technique that produces a set of hierarchical decompo-

sitions to identify groupings among population of individuals (Navarro et al. 1997).
Generally, it can be categorized into either agglomerative or divisive based on the
formation of the hierarchical decomposition. Here, we used this method to obtain the
number of possible clusters from the gathered UI design preferences and personal-
ity data for the K-means clustering. This was achieved by using Ward’s method and
Euclidean distance based on the recommendation of Du et al. (2017). In order to deter-
mine the cluster number, we inspected for distinctive break region (elbow criterion,
R-squared  0.75) based on the percentage of variance explained as an indication for
the number of clusters. We also used the dendrogram plot to help us confirm the results
produced from the elbow plot. Our inspection of the two plots led us to consider a
two-cluster solution (see next subsection).

4.4 K-means clustering

To obtain the membership value for the two-cluster solution, a K-means algorithm
was used. This method arranges the supplied objects or instances into k partitions that
can be used later to shape the membership based on the similarity and dissimilarity
of features in each cluster (Han et al. 2011). A centroid-based partitioning technique
was used to represent features of the same cluster (Han et al. 2011). In addition, we
used the Euclidean distance to measure the differences between instance and cluster’s

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

Fig. 2 The distribution of personality traits in the two clusters

representative. Then, the quality of each cluster was assessed based on the within-
cluster variation.
The first cluster showed that participants scored high in neuroticism (M  62.75
and SD  20.47) followed by agreeableness (M  34.06, SD  25.60), extraversion
(M  31.00, SD  15.22), conscientiousness (M  29.72, SD  17.768), and openness
to experience (M  20.31, SD  13.44), respectively. Thus, we labelled this cluster
as the “neuroticism” cluster (N  50). Nevertheless, participants in the second cluster
scored high in extraversion (M  67.66 and SD  16.49) and conscientiousness
(M  66.04, SD  20.87), followed by agreeableness (M  50.57, SD  22.35),
openness to experience (M  44.23, SD  19.15), and neuroticism (M  39.61,
SD  22.83). Hence, this cluster was labelled as the “extra-conscientiousness” cluster
(N  37). Figure 2 illustrates the differences between the personality traits of the
two-cluster solution.
Analysis of variance (ANOVA) test was used to confirm the differences between the
two clusters. The results showed a significant difference (p < 0.05) in all personality
traits and design elements of the two clusters. This confirms that instances of person-
ality traits and design elements in the one cluster are different from the instances of
the second cluster.

4.5 Apriori algorithm

Apriori algorithm helps discover potential relations between different instances that
fall within specified distance categories (Kamsu-Foguem et al. 2013). It can be used to

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

Table 1 Association rules results

No. Cluster name Confidence (%)

Neuroticism cluster
1 Alignment centre => Network structure 100
2 Network structure => Relative layout 98
3 Low information density => Buttons photo 100
4 Verdana header 53-point => Segmented control 100
5 Scroll thumb => Relative Layout 99
6 Font text size 40-point => Relative layout 100
7 Buttons photo => Expanding list 100
8 Font header 53-point => Verdana font type 96
9 Font text size 40-point  Verdana font type => Colour Hue 99
10 Stepping => Expanding list 100
Extra-conscientiousness cluster
1 Slidable top navigation => Network structure 100
2 Font size 14 point => Relative layout 100
3 High information density => Buttons photo 100
4 Slidable top navigation => Scroll thumb 97
5 Buttons name and photo => Scroll thumb 100
6 Font header 75-point => Arial font type 100
7 Font text size 51-point => Arial font type 99
8 Scroll thumb => Colour hue 100
9 Align text left => Font text size 51-point 100
10 Scroll thumb => Segmented control 99
11 Relative layout  Font text size 51-point => Align text left 100

build a set of rules with balanced features. The main reason for choosing this method
in this study was to provide us with the sufficient design solutions arise from placing a
combination of design elements within a page layout. To do so, we set the delta value
to 0.05 in order to reach the minimum support level (or till the required number of rules
is generated). The lower bound for estimating the minimum support was set at 0.1, the
minimum metric score was set at 0.9, and the upper bound for the minimum support
was set at 1.0. The obtained rules are shown in Table 1. These rules were applied into
the design of the two UI versions in order to fit the preferences of each personality
group. For example, the rule of Verdana header 53-point => Segmented Control was
applied to the design of the Neuroticism UI; while the role of Slidable Top Naviga-
tion => Scroll Thumb was applied to the design of the Extra-conscientiousness UI.
This process was repeated for each rule listed in Table 1 till the final design solution
for each personality group is shaped (see Fig. 3). The distribution of these rules in the
design of the interface was based on its appropriateness and appeal for the learning

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

Fig. 3 Illustration of mobile device UI design for the two personality groups

4.6 Materials and assembling

The learning materials for the design of each cluster was obtained from the book
“Fundamentals of Multimedia” by Li et al. (2004). This book was written particularly
for the university-level, and it contained basic multimedia concepts. The learning
materials for each interface design covered different aspects of multimedia authoring
metaphors. In order to ensure a balanced distribution of content complexity, timing,
and comprehensiveness, we asked four instructional design experts to help us assess
the appropriateness and difficulty of the learning materials in the two designs. This was
essential to ensure adequate balance of learning objectives for all participants in the
two personality profile groups. The experts were also asked to make value judgements
as to the appropriateness and appeal of the design rules in according to the learning
objectives and processes. After receiving the experts’ assessments and judgements, a
finalized version of two designs named Extra-conscientiousness UI and Neuroticism
UI was reached and used. Finally, we used Java programming language to build the UI
for the two clusters (see Fig. 3). The design principles gathered from the participants
were used to alternate the choice and order of the design rules found in Table 1. We
selected the rules that scored above 90%. The decision to place one or more design
rules to a certain page was judged based on the learning task and the interview session.

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

5 Evaluation

5.1 Eye-tracking configuration and eye-movement parameters

As a human, gazing is an adequate indication of human behavior and various cognitive

and motivational aspects, we decided to use an eye-tracking glasses (ETG) device to
examine participants’ perceptual experience in a mobile learning context. The mobile
device was fixed in front of the participants’ eye for perpendicular viewing to the screen
at a distance of about 30 cm, they were advised to remain still while performing the
two tasks. The temporal resolution of the eye tracker was set at 30 Hz (binocular)
and gaze position accuracy at 0.5° over all distances (Toyama et al. 2013). Since the
study aim was to explore the overall perceptual experience of mobile users when
interacting with the interface designed to fit their particular personality profile, we
used the area of interest (AOI) method to help us extract the eye-movement data from
the mobile screen. An AOI of 15.4 cm by 7.9 cm was used in this study to cover the
display screen and the proposed UI design. By doing so, we were able to exclude other
surrounding environmental elements that may significantly influence the interpretation
of the eye-movement data. There were 50 participants in the Neuroticism group and
37 participants in the Extra-conscientiousness group.
Studies conducted during the last 40–50 years have offered a great number of evi-
dences that human cognitive processes, such as comprehension, understanding, and
problem solving, can be explained by certain eye-movement events or parameters.
Here, the eye-movement parameter of pupil diameter was used to estimate the par-
ticipants’ cognitive load when interacting with the two UI designs. The pupillary
response and its application to various domains has long been known to be associated
with increased mental activity. This led many studies to consider the use of dilation
of the pupil to measure cognitive load, as well as emotional and other psychological
states (e.g., Hyönä et al. 1995; Siegle et al. 2008). However, it is likely that the more
difficult the task, the larger the pupillary dilation (Van Der Meer et al. 2010).
On the other hand, the eye fixation duration was used to estimate participants’
attention to the UI design. The fixation duration has been found to provide a reliable
measure the amount of attention an individual spend on a task (Tsai et al. 2012). Com-
monly, longer fixation implies that individual is spending more time interpreting or
relating the component representation in the interface to the internalized representation
(Ehmke and Wilson 2007).

5.2 Procedure

Participants entered one-by-one to the eye-tracking lab. They were seated comfortably
on a chair. The room was dimly lit and shielded from sound to provide a comfortable
environment when performing the experiment. In order to ensure that ETG precisely
detects subjects’ eye when executing the task, we performed 3-point calibration test
before using the UI design. A Samsung Galaxy Note 4 mobile device (screen size  5.7
inches; resolution  2560 × 1440 pixels (515 ppi); screen type  Super AMOLED)
was used in this study.

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

At the beginning of the experiment, a brief description about the learning task was
given to all participants, including a description of what is expected from them when
using the mobile application. After receiving the signed informed consent form from
all participates, we asked each one of them (individually) to sit and read the available
materials carefully during the task. Before the main experiment began, participants
were asked to use the mobile device to freely browse the internet about any topic of
their interest within a 2-min session to get them used to the experimental situation and
the device. After that, they were instructed to sequentially browse the UI design for
each personality group. They silently read the learning contents of each UI design.
They were not allowed to ask any question until the experiment is finished. To con-
trol for a potential lateral bias, subjects in each group were randomly assigned either
“Extra-conscientiousness UI” or “Neuroticism UI” for the first trial (at first, 9 partic-
ipants in the Extra-conscientiousness group used the Extra-conscientiousness UI; 13
participants in the Neuroticism group used the Neuroticism UI; 9 participants in the
Extra-conscientiousness group used the Neuroticism UI; 12 participants in the Neuroti-
cism group used the Extra-conscientiousness UI) and then received the alternative for
the second trial (10 participants in the Extra-conscientiousness group used the Neuroti-
cism UI; 13 participants in the Neuroticism group used the Extra-conscientiousness UI;
9 participants in the Extra-conscientiousness group used the Extra-conscientiousness
UI; 12 participants in the Neuroticism group used the Neuroticism UI). A minimum
of 10 min rest was given between the first and second session. When each participant
finished reading, the eye recording was stopped, and an exit interview was conducted
to further measure participants’ experience from the learning task. We also asked them
to identify the UI design that they found it more suitable for their learning, and the
reasons behind it.

6 Results

To analyse participants’ eye-movement data and understand their perceptual behavior,

the ANOVA test was used to analyse the dataset of 87 participants. Precisely, between-
variance and within variance were implemented to examine participants’ average pupil
diameter and fixation duration, thus to understand their cognitive load and attention
when using the proposed design.

6.1 Between-variance (ANOVA)

A between-variances or “between-subject group” was performed to examine whether

the participants’ perceptual experience (in the neuroticism and extra-conscientiousness
personality types) was similar or different when learning with an interface designed in
accordance to their personality types. The results showed that the average pupil diame-
ter of participants belonging to the neuroticism group (M  2.69 mm, SD  1.15 mm)
differed from that of the participants belonging to the extra-conscientiousness group
(M  2.07 mm, SD  1.36 mm). The ANOVA results (see Table 2) showed a signifi-
cant difference in participants’ average pupil diameter (F  1015.47, p < 0.05) when
learning with the design for each personality type. Our results also showed dissimilar-

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

Table 2 Between-variance ANOVA results

Eye events and personality M SD F Sig.

1. Ave. pupil diameter

Neuroticism 2.69 1.15 1015.47 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 2.07 1.36
2. Fixation duration
Neuroticism 177.67 148.70 253.84 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 141.11 146.46

ities in the fixation duration (F  253.84, p < 0.05) of the neuroticism group members
(M  20.40°, SD  93.06°) and the extra-conscientiousness group (M  33.3295°,
SD  1287.03103°). We found that the visual experience was varied among partici-
pants of each personality type, which was clearly reflected in their cognitive load and
Possible reason for this varied visual experience can be due to the association
between certain personal constructs and individual’s cognition (Reis et al. 2012b),
which reflect effort and other cognitive factors that correspondingly contribute to
the central processes of human information processing and interaction. In addition,
people cognition of the environment is likely to be the result of our engagement with
the activity in which the preferred design elements for each personality group might
helped in minimizing the cognitive load required by a person to process information.
From the perspective of human-centered design principles (Oviatt 2006), eliminating
unnecessary distractions and design elements might be the reason why individuals
high in certain personality traits experienced different cognitive demands.

6.2 Within-variance (ANOVA)

The perceptual behavior in terms of average pupil diameter and fixation duration of
both group members (neuroticism and extra-conscientiousness) was further investi-
gated using the within group variance (i.e., differences among people within the same
group). This was conducted to provide comprehensive insights into how the design
preferences of the two personality types affect participants’ cognitive load and atten-
For the neuroticism group, ANOVA results showed a significant difference
(F  1323.21, p < 0.05) in the participants’ average pupil diameter when using the
neuroticism UI and the extra-conscientiousness UI. This was further illustrated in
Fig. 4a, where “*” is used to indicate the difference. The descriptive statistics results
in Table 3 demonstrates that the participants’ average pupil diameter was smaller
(M  2.27 mm, SD  1.41 mm) when using the neuroticism UI than when using
the extra-conscientiousness UI (M  3.12 mm, SD  0.53 mm). It can be assumed
that when personality nuances were reflected in the design of the interface, it sig-
nificantly altered the participants’ cognitive load level when learning with the two
different designs. We also found significant differences in participants’ mean fixation

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

Fig. 4 Results of average pupil diameter and fixation duration for the two personality types

duration (F  176.38, p < 0.05) when using the two interface designs (see Fig. 4a).
From the results, we were able to say that the mean fixation duration of members
of the neuroticism group was lesser (M  156.18 ms, SD  157.97 ms) when using
the neuroticism UI as compared to the extra-conscientiousness UI (M  199.16 ms,
SD  135.46 ms).
For the extra-conscientiousness group, the results showed a significant difference
(F  893.79, p < 0.05) in participants’ average pupil diameter when using the two
designs (see Fig. 4b). We found that the mean average pupil diameter of participants
who used the extra-conscientiousness UI was smaller (M  2.10 mm, SD  1.26 mm)
than when using the neuroticism UI (M  2.88 mm, SD  0.63 mm). This led us to
assert that the cognitive load of participants belonging to the extra-conscientiousness
group was less when learning with the interface that matched their preferences. Par-
ticipants’ fixation duration was also different (F  138.912, p < 0.05) when learning
with the two designs (see Fig. 4b). The mean fixation duration of participants in the
extra-conscientiousness group was smaller when using the interface that falls within
their personality structure (M  150.88 ms, SD  156.37 ms) than when using the
neuroticism UI (M  191.72 ms, SD  128.29 ms). The overall time consumed by
the participants in each session was approximately 7.3–8.8 min. We found that partic-
ipants of each personality group were able to complete the task faster when using the

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

Table 3 Statistical results of participants’ eye-movements

Personality M SD df F Sig.

Neuroticism UI
1. Pupil diameter
Neuroticism 2.27 1.41 1 1323.21 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 3.12 0.53 8271
Average 2.695 0.97
2. Fixation duration
Neuroticism 156.18 157.97 1 176.38 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 199.16 135.46 8270
Average 177.67 146.72
Extra-conscientiousness UI
1. Pupil diameter
Neuroticism 2.88 0.63 1 893.79 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 2.10 1.26 6812
Average 2.49 0.95
2. Fixation duration
Neuroticism 191.72 128.29 1 138.91 0.00
Extra-conscientiousness 150.88 156.37 6812
Average 171.3 142.33

UI designed based on their preferences. Participants of the neuroticism group spent

450,000 ms on the neuroticism UI and 527,455 ms on the extra-conscientiousness UI.
In contrast, participants of the extra-conscientiousness group spent 438,000 ms on the
extra-conscientiousness UI as compared to the neuroticism UI (489,050 ms).
Participants in both groups invested less attention to the irrelevant objects when
using the interface of their personality type than when using the interface for other
personality types. This led us to conclude that using personality in the design of a
UI would positively influences users’ perceptual attention by providing the necessary
visual elements that facilitate their cognitive processing, thus less cognitive load.
The eye movement results showed that when participants interacted with the design
that fall within their personality profile, they tended to exhibit higher visual efficiency
and greater visual comfort when attempting to process and navigate between the con-
tents of the interface. This was evident from the resulted cognitive load and attention
in which participants of the one group were found to perform better when interacting
with the design of their personality type. We found that the design elements such as
colours and fonts (and others used here) apparently played a major role in inducing a
varied cognitive load levels among participants of the two personality groups. This is
because preferences to a certain font size can influence the overall reading behavior
of the person interacting with the display. It can be said that participants’ choice to
reading specific size font has significantly affected their centration matter. This was
observed from the changes in pupil diameter and fixation duration produced through-
out the learning sessions. Our observation of the participants’ fixation on the AOIs,

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

when switching between the two designs, lead us to assume that the Verdana and Arial
fonts seemed to greatly contribute to the participants’ eye movement control while
reading. In addition, the decision to use specific navigation buttons and techniques
was found to facilitate the total fixation time required for a participant to move from
one content to another. The font size, on the other hand, was found to impact the partic-
ipants’ pupil dilation by enabling them to effectively read and recognize the elements
in the interface. Moreover, the organization and distribution of other graphical and
textual elements in the design of the extra-conscientiousness UI and the extraversion
UI were found to significantly influence the participants’ attention to the design of
their personality group.
Besides the use of eye-tracking results to explain the overall perpetual experience
among participants, we asked each of them to describe their perception of the UI
effectiveness to their learning. The results showed that participants enjoyed learning
from the interface that included elements within the preferences of their personality
traits. They claimed that such interface provided them with an intuitive and productive
means to learn the content with minimal confusion and visual distortion. For instance,
participants found themselves motivated to explore the learning content because they
felt that they had acquired sufficient information by easily processing the learning
contents. A possible reason can be that most participants found the UI designed based
on their personality profile to be predicted and within their expectations, which, as a
result, led to facilitate an effortless reading experience. In contrast, participants who
used the UI design of the other personality groups showed signs of demotivation caused
by the choice of colour (mostly) and the way information was structured and aligned
within the screen. In addition to that, they felt that their attention was more impaired
when reading the content which led them to experience slow readying process. As
such, it can be said that preferences of certain design elements may potentially impact
users’ ability to efficiently interact with the display and learn the content.

7 Discussion

In general, it is not yet known exactly how various characteristics of personality inter-
act with certain design preferences. This is because the perception of personality is
likely to be a largely unconscious process which results in people preferring to interact
with the elements that fall within these characteristics (Boudreaux and Palmer 2007).
What is known is that certain individual personality traits tend to build emotional ties
to the environment by creating a cognitive association between a set of personal and
contextual characteristics (Buss and Plomin 2014). Since a very few number of studies
have examined such association, incorporating the personality features into the design
of the UI design process may offer the potential to create perceptions of quality, confi-
dence, and self-expression among people. As such, we were motivated to examine how
the design and personality features emerged from the clustering solution can support
users when interacting with the display. For example, people high in extraversion are
commonly described to be more cheerful, optimistic and energetic possibly. This is
because they are more likely to engage in more activities that can help them to over-
come stressful conditions (Kokkinos 2007). They are also described to be attracted to

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

stimulating environments (Swickert et al. 2002), which may explain why participants
with such type of personality were mostly interested to use high-contrast visual dis-
plays. This is evident from the high preference signs, gathered from the participants of
this trait, towards using the red colour when interacting with the display. It is believed
that the red colour and other ‘preferred’ design features seemed to be a cue of motive
relevance (Buechner et al. 2014), according to which the motivationally-relevant stim-
uli may attract the attention of individuals to specific elements in the environment.
People high in extraversion have been described to process high sensory threshold and
therefore seek the strong sensory stimulation (Strelau 1987). In addition, the literature
showed that people high in conscientiousness are more used to engage in organized
and structured activities (Witt et al. 2002). This might somehow be associated with the
participants’ decision to seek more appealing elements of design (such as larger and
structured buttons) to help them differentiate important actions in the interface. They
are also likely to be affected by the tension imposed by the environment (Cianci et al.
2010), which explain why participants high in extraversion preferred to choose clearer
navigational elements with informative aid to help them navigate from one activity to
another. We think that using the extra-conscientiousness UI among people high in both
extraversion and conscientiousness could direct them to the task more efficiently by
making it easy for them to navigate and recognize the relevant materials in the display.
As for the neuroticism group, the literature showed that people high in this trait are
likely to experience strong emotional reactions such as anxiety and anger (Bellizzi and
Hite 1992). They are also likely to experience diminished control function (Cremers
et al. 2010), which might explain why participants who scored high in this trait pre-
ferred to use calm colours and more structured and divided texts. We assume that the
use of the neuroticism UI helped participants to better focus on the task by enabling
them to locate and interpret the relevant learning contents quickly and efficiently.
Based on the eye-movement results, we found that participants’ perceptual experi-
ence of certain personality types was different for the two mobile interface designs.
We noticed that their cognitive load was lower when they used the interface of their
personality nuances, which led them to invest less effort to formalize themselves to the
design objects. It is assumed that the differences in users’ cognitive load and their pref-
erences for a certain design are related to the amount of resources they have to allocate
to a given task. Inspired by Wang et al. (1998) who explained how the visual display
of the task environment can be used to determine the structure of an object, changes in
pupil size can be attributed to the visual display of the task environment where the more
complex the visual elements, the greater the pupillary dilation (Van Der Meer et al.
2010). However, our results can be interpreted from the perspective of human-centered
design principles that emphasize the importance of minimizing users’ cognitive load
by eliminating unnecessary distractions and design elements that impose additional
cognitive demands (Oviatt 2006). Therefore, a light cognitive load when using the UI,
which increases individual’s positive experience when performing perceptual tasks,
can be attributed to individual preferences or ingrained behavior. This result supports
or adds to previous claims, such as those of Goren-Bar et al. (2006), who demonstrated
that personality-based design may potentially reduce individuals’ cognitive load. In
addition, cognitive ability and personality nuances (e.g., extraversion and openness
to experience) can be considered promising individual features that may form the

Towards incorporating personality into the design of an…

selection and movement into work experiences (Judge et al. 2002, 2004). Other pre-
vious studies, including that of Graham and Lachman (2012), showed that differences
in individuals’ levels of neuroticism, extraversion, openness, and agreeableness can
be used as an indicator of their cognitive performance. According to the findings of
Berggren et al. (2013), it is possible that cognitive load attenuates the mood induction
aspect, while having little effect on the differences that are linked to the personality.
Since people interpret the elements of a presentation in order to make inferences about
its meaning, ensuring an appropriate design of an interface can facilitate users’ under-
standing and task performance as it minimize the cognitive load required by users to
process information (Reis et al. 2012b). From the perspective of cognitive load theory,
when a person experiences differences in his/her performance during a visual task, it
can be due to the variance in the cognitive engineering that exists in the individual’s
mental model, which is believed to significantly influence the individual’s processing
of visual information. Based on these, differences in individuals’ cognitive load can
be corresponded with our design preferences explain by certain personality traits.
Our finding of that the visual attention of the learners in the neuroticism and extra-
conscientiousness groups was better when they learned with the interface designed
based on their personality support those of previous studies, such as that of Yovel et al.
(2005) who explained how personality measures can be linked to the visual attention of
a person when he/she interacts with local aspects of stimuli. According to Titulaer et al.
(2012), personality-dependent variation in a learning context is the result of differences
in attention, and this means that personality may play a key role in driving certain out-
comes. We think that the regulation of attention when using an interface tailored for
certain personality dimensions is mediated by users’ behavior, where each dimension
can shape certain mental and psychological preferences relevant to the design of the
environment. This is evident from our recent study (Sarsam and Al-Samarraie 2018)
that certain personality dimensions can be used to promote user’s satisfaction with
the interface design. The results also showed that users’ attention can be influenced
by the type of design elements placed into the UI based on their personality profile,
which may potentially impact the efficiency of their information processing. We also
think that when the design of UI is shaped according to the users’ personality profile
it may potentially affects the overall interaction experience resulted from stimulating
the visual system through convergence of visual information closely to other cognitive
modalities. For example, the literature showed that an increase in individuals’ over-
all reading comprehension and improved reading speed is typically relevant to their
preferences for font size (Beymer et al. 2008). In addition, other font characteristics,
such as type or style, can help individuals to better distinguish letters and words and
hence make it easier to learn and read the content (Kim et al. 2015). Some previous
studies (e.g., Dyson and Haselgrove 2001) also attempted to show how the character-
istics of certain design layouts, including the distribution of information and colours,
can add coziness and attractiveness to the users (Hakim and Deswindi 2015). Based
on these observations, one can conclude that associating the design characteristics of
UI to users’ personality traits or dimensions would properly promote their interac-
tion by contributing to their ability to efficiently process and understand the visual
information. Potential implications from this study are described in the next section.

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

8 Study implications

Creating a design based on preferences due to personality differences means creating

an interface that matches a user’s demands through its adaptation to his/her behavior.
Such design in a mobile learning context could possibility improve learners’ perceptual
experience. Our study offers some implications for advanced interface customization.
For example, the process of relating design preferences to individual personality can
be used to support the design requirements of learning and non-learning software.
Typically, the association between design preferences and personality trait can be
used to inform designers about the key elements to be considered when designing
the UI. This would provide users of the system with more control of the task at hand
and a greater capacity to master the required skills. As a result, several activities can
be performed smoothly, such as information browsing and seeking. In addition, our
design recommendations for the two personality groups can lead to other design styles
for other interface design problems. Finally, future studies on the design of intelligent
systems may consider the significance of embedding certain design elements into the
display so that it complies with individuals’ personality characteristics.

9 Limitations and future works

This study carries some limitations that need to be overcome in future studies. First,
in the design of UI we considered only the design elements frequently mentioned in
the literature: structure, navigation, layout, font style, font size, buttons, color, lists,
information density, support, and alignment. Second, the two interface designs were
shaped particularly for mobile learning. Third, the accuracy for predicting a certain
personality profile to a certain UI design was not addressed in this study. Fourth, the
learning task (reading and browsing) was chosen to address some trends concerning
one topic in which other learning tasks may influence learners’ willingness to engage
and interact with the content. Hence, future work may cover additional behavioral
aspects of decision making when building intuitive UI design in order to augment
the results of this study. Future work may also consider the generalizability of this
study’s design approach for learning situations to non-learning situations, such as
health and business. In addition, future studies may also consider combining users’
personality with other characteristics, such as gender and age, followed by multi-target
classification to predict the potential design. It is likely that future studies may still
need to consider a larger sample size in order to better understand and increase the
likelihood of having participants high in other personality traits (such as agreeableness,
openness, and neuroticism) assigned to their preferred UI design.

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Dr. Samer Muthana Sarsam Sarsam received his Master degrees in Information Technology (IT) from
University Tun Abdul Razak (Malaysia). He received his Ph.D. degree from Universiti Sains Malaysia. Dr.
Sarsam’s research is in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI) and Data Mining domains. His work focuses
on understanding users’ behavior when interacting with the interface. He is familiar with various data
mining and machine learning techniques for processing different neurological and physiological data. His
contribution is based on experiences gained both from his Ph.D. work as well as his current research.

S. M. Sarsam, H. Al-Samarraie

Dr. Hosam Al-Samarraie Hosam is a senior lecturer in the Centre for Instructional Technology and Mul-
timedia, Universiti Sains Malaysia. His border research area is in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) with
emphasis on visualization, clustering, and prediction of patterns and/or knowledge. He is also interested
in examining various behavioural contexts in multi-disciplinary areas. This include the use of differ-
ent machine learning tools to predict and examine the association between behaviour spatial context,
behaviour correlation context, and behaviour temporal context. His recent projects have focused primarily
on information visualization for effective use of learning systems, UX prediction models, visual interac-
tion, and users’ brain activation using Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) methodologies.

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