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5/18/2008

Design Principle #1: No reading allowed

“Don’t design your website for readers” has been a credo of mine for awhile. And in working for a library, based upon books, I realize that this can sound a bit sacrilegious.

The truth is that on the web, people just don’t read. They look for visual clues first and then search for content and navigation based upon screen layout and conventional design norms. At best, users will scan a landing page for second or two before moving on and if your lucky, something visually will catch their attention and give them pause to actually read and absorb a message.

Jakob Neilsen (aka the Usability guru) has recently released a new report that updates his studies on webpage visits and reading that helps confirm this...

“On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.”


It’s not amazing to see this trend hasn’t changed much since Neilsen’s original study in 1997. Plain and simple, people don’t read websites. They scan.

7 comments:

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waltc said...

The problems with that study...

1. Twentyfive participants. Statistically meaningless.

2. Then you throw out all the long sessions, assuming that anybody spending 10+ minutes on a page is really off doing something else.

3. Then you throw out all the long pages to make the data fit better. (1,250 words isn't all that long a page, for that matter--although it would require scrolling.)

4. Then you make overall assumptions about reading speed, despite reading speed being such a heterogeneous factor. I'm pretty sure I can read more than 18 words in four seconds...

All in all, it's an impressive demonstration of arriving at predetermined results. And, for that matter, it's three-year-old data...

A better wording of the conclusion:

"A few people spending medium amounts of time on medium-length pages with medium-level reading speed probably aren't actually reading every word on the page."

Which isn't quite so plain and simple, but is closer to the demonstrated truth.

Cat said...

Huh? Wha? Did you say something?

Tony Tallent said...

Yes. People viewing the web are visually oriented. Period. Let's end the scroll-downs and long narrative. As with fiction, show--don't tell.
Tony

waltc said...

Isn't that an extreme generalization? Do you have evidence that everybody using the web--which is, in most situations, pretty much everybody--is "visually oriented"? The "Period." seems to suggest a proven universal correlation, one that I don't believe exists.

If so, then I guess libraries really should shut down their book collections (other than graphic novels), since most library users are also web users.

And, of course, so much for Wikipedia, many blogs, and a whole lot of other sites where scrolling down is assumed...

SJD said...

I think this highlights the mentally of web users versus book readers. Take myself for example - You have about 5 seconds on your website to catch my interest, if you don't I'm gone. Too much text to wade through is a quick way to run off visitors, IMHO. Long dissertations are great when you're research a specific topic, but for general reading its just too much for the attention deficit web reader.

Sharani Robins said...

Less isn't always more according to web site usability experts. For another point of view, check out Jared Spool's article about showing links and info. on the site in a transparent manner - even if it means scrolling. I honestly think that most people who want to use a library web site won't be thrown off by an information-rich presentation.