Monday, January 29, 2007

Web Reading

Image Credit: UBClibrary

Some time ago I came across Jakob Nielsen's work on Web usability. He is basically an organisation that provides analysis of how usable a website is, with training and consultation days including creating paper mock ups of a site.

What fascinated me was the eye tracking research he carried out on how people read websites.

The images above show hot spots of where user`s eyes spent the most time when reading/ scanning through sites. He describes the most common pattern as the F shape. That is ignoring most of the right hand side and reading from left to right from the top, while omitting some details. This surely has implications for how we teach reading 'on-screen` as the new literacy strategy suggests.

Nielson offers these three implications for the F pattern

Implications of the F Pattern

The F pattern's implications for Web design are clear and show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:
Users won't read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner.

Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors.

Yes, some people will read more, but most won't.

The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There's some hope that users will actually read this material, though they'll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.

Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior.

They'll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

He goes onto mention that the F pattern, though dominant is not the only way that readers look at Web pages. He tells web-creators that `because users read differently you have to write differently'

It's fascinating to watch the slow-motion replay of users' eye movements as they read and scan across a page. Every page has reading issues beyond the dominant F pattern I'm discussing here. For example, users scan in a different, more directed way when they're looking for prices or other numbers, and an interesting hot-potato behavior determines how users look at a list of search engine ads.

I recently asked a group of NQTS to tell me where their eyes fell, when they looked at an ordinary MSN page- some went to the flashing McDonalds ad, others went to the top of the page. Hardly exhaustive research, but it does point to the difference between right to left scanning that we assume people do compared with the deliberate and specific scanning that we all do when we view a website. So, when we ask children to write on screen, should we not at least begin by analysing how children look for and retrieve on-screen information. I mean we labour the point of indexes and contents in big books don`t we?

No comments: