The Reader

In defense of readers... (credit:

Kate Winslet and David Kross in the 'Reader'

Despite the ubiquity of reading on the web, readers remain a neglected audience. Much of our talk about web design revolves around a sense of movement: users are thought to be finding, searching, skimming, looking. We measure how frequently they click but not how long they stay on the page. We concern ourselves with their travel and participation—how they move from page to page, who they talk to when they get there—but forget the needs of those whose purpose is to be still. Readers flourish when they have space—some distance from the hubbub of the crowds—and as web designers, there is yet much we can do to help them carve out that space. >>Full Story

Thoughts// In the recent Academy award winner “The Reader“, Kate Winslet turns in a powerful performance about a woman who not only falls in love with a much younger man but is also conflicted between doing the right thing and following orders in her role as a Nazi prison camp guard.  It’s also a movie about literature and the power of reading.  Unfortunately when it comes to designing digital experiences, the concept of designing for the “reader” sometimes becomes an afterthought.

In the face of the buzz worthy essay by Nicolas Carr (“Is Google Making Us Stupid“) and Jakob Neilsen’s research showing that web users don’t read much, it might be easy to dismiss the role of reading in the digital environment.   However, given explosion in the use of personal expression tools such as blogs, the popularity of Kindle and the power and longevity of good content, the concept that “reading is dead” is perhaps a bit exaggerated.

Sure, reading on your laptop is not as cozy as getting lost in The Sun Also Rises, while being bundled up on the couch;  however digital text also has the power to absorb you and draw you into that “place of solitude”.   This thought-provoking article challenges us to think about how design elements of your content can make all the difference between a reader that stays or leaves; consider:

  1. Pay attention to the “pre-reading” rituals; think about how your title, use of illustration/images and pull quotes at the top can establish interest, and serve as an invitation to reading;
  2. Limit distractions to the reading experience; think about how your font, line length, line height and the contrast between text and background can draw the reader in;
  3. Examine the buffer space between text and the sidebar; color contrast between sidebar and main body;
  4. Focus related content to either the top of bottom of the experience;

Sure…your search engine keywords and display ads can drive consumers to your site; good, usable content makes all the difference between a “skimmer” and an “engaged user”; it can also make all the difference between a sale and a bounce. Thanks to the team @substance for turning me on to this great article!

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