How to design your content for scanning and not reading : 5 powerful ideas for effective story telling.
As attention span of people keep decreasing over the years, how can we communicate content through effective content strategy?
Reading content online is similar to conversing with a person you met 10 minutes ago. The first impression of the article is made in the first 2 min of scanning that article. If the important piece of content is designed to grab the reader’s attention while he is scanning, the more likely he is to read the article word by word.
The analytics vendor Chartbeat’s data highlighted that most readers scrolled only upto 50% of the page of an article on Slate stories. The most interesting fact is that most visitors who scrolled 100% of the story was purely for the video and photo content. — You won’t finish this article
An article by Jacob Nielsen explains that people rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.But this article was written in 1997 !!
Imagine the current attention span of the so called Millennial. The research by the Nielsen Norman group, found that 79 percent of their participants, scanned the web page and only 16 percent completed the article.
It was intriguing to find during the course of my research, that in 1997 people were still more inclined to read books as stated in the scholarly articles of world personalities like-
Churchill & Johnson (1997) advocated that new media are still no match for the book and new technology has not yet made any impact on people’s reading habits. They reported that Surveys in 1989 and 1995 found the same proportion of people — 39% — had finished reading a book for pleasure within the last two weeks and the number who bought more than 16 books a year increased from 28% in 1989 to 30% in 1995.
Inference from this study is that if people were habituated to read outside the digital space, then their attention span while reading on the digital space would be relatively more than people who are not in the habit of reading.
From the above study there could be two arguments :
- The readers approached content in the digital space with a different frame of mind as opposed to content on paper.
- The experience of reading content on the digital space is not pleasing enough to hook the reader without distractions.
5 powerful ideas that can engage the reader
1 Info-graphics: Nowadays data visualizations and info graphics play the role of conveying information that may require more than three paragraphs. Through a fun simple diagram that conveys the same information with engaging graphics.
2 Interactive content : When the reader is given the opportunity to interact with your content, they are more likely to read the article that supports the interaction.
In the above image, the reader can interact with the map and industry data to analyze the visual which represents the fastest growing company. If the author had to articulate the above data in the form of content it would result in a long detailed article which the reader might scan and not derive much from the information.
3 Highlighting Key words : using appropriate typeface and type size often draws attention to the key points mentioned in the article.
4 Keeping information bite sized : A paragraph should not exceed more than four sentences when written for the web. There should be ample of white spaces to help the reader’s eyes to pause also known as fixations. An example would be the shift in the avid newspaper readers from print media to digital space. Zenithoptimedia reports find that-
This could be possibly because the web allowed the readers to scan content in order to consume the news faster. Newspaper applications like Inshorts has responded to this behavioral change in readers by condensing the news in 60 words. This resulted in the application to become the highest rated news app in play store.
5 One idea per paragraph : Studies prior to 1992 concluded that most readers read slower, less accurately and less comprehensively on screen rather than on paper.
It was interesting to note that people approached computers with a state of mind less inclined to learning as opposed to how they approached a paper. Hence composing too many ideas in a paragraph can overwhelm the reader and result in skimming or worse skipping the content.
Skimming is the default way of consuming content on web.
This behavior of skimming could be a result of the “Paradox of choice”.The choice of content available on the web related to a specific article is in abundance. This results in the reader opening multiple tabs and cross referencing between articles in order to hunt for the insight or the answer the reader is looking for.
The Nielsen Norman group has conducted an Eye tracking research in order to understand the pattern followed while skimming an article.
The article clearly states that when we read, we tend to scan the first few sentences on the top and then our eyes drop vertically along the left side of the screen forming an F pattern.
This could be our brain trying to coordinate with our eye to consume information in the most efficient and quick process. As digital nomads we are training ourselves to read more effectively on the digital space especially on our mobile phone screens.
I came across this term called “saccades” which states that our eyes have a tendency to skip back and forth while reading a piece on content.
“ These words don’t mean a thing” a chapter in shaping text establish that reading is more than just deciphering words and letters. Our brain automatically makes connections as it is not only processing what is being read but also trying to decipher patterns from our internal database. The brain attempts to guess the word it has seen and often the eye jumps back to reiterate the assumption.
This bring to our next topic that the choice of the typeface determine our thought process.
Importance of type to enhance our reading experience
500 yrs ago, Leonardo Da vinci discovered that lenses of our eyes can see only a small section from our field of vision with total acuity. Everything beyond this range appears to be blurred. Hence the closer we approach the content the narrower the part we can focus.
The best approach to support the eye while reading would be the practice of choosing the appropriate type face.
Technical characteristic of the type face, is a crucial decision to use or not to use. Different type caters to different needs and designers often choose not decorative fonts as the body copy. It is also termed as “jobbing type”- type specimens used for business presentations and serious content.
In the study regarding type face anatomy, it indicates that as designers we should choose a type that has short ascenders and descenders so that the X height is more.
Type legibility is not just design but it is science.
For many decades psychologists, typographers and physiologists have conducted research on the optical , physical and psychological aspects of reading. Research claims that classic serif types are the best choice for the body text.
If readers on the web want to skim. then as designers we should ensure that skimming is a means of purposeful scanning through the content to retrieve what the reader is looking for. Skimming should not be a random pursuit to scroll across text.