Readability is a simple tool that enhances the reading experience on the web by masking out unnecessary clutter around the text you want to read and by resetting the text to an optimum measure for comfortable reading. It may be possible to read lengthy continuous text using this. It is a good idea incorporating a simple, economical use of web technology and its very easy to use. Just drag the readability button to your bookmarks toolbark in your browser and click on it when you want to use it. Made by Arc90, they are doing some interesting stuff. TBuzz is worth installing if you are a Twitter addict.
UK company Message Digital Design Ltd recently launched an online legibility survey about reading text on the web. The survey consists an online tool which enables the user to dynamically select and change text preferences for font (web safe), size, line height and column width until they arrive at their preferred setting. The survey has already received 3,500 replies which is a very good response and clearly demonstrates the need for factual information in the area of on-screen legibility. However, although this survey appears so simple, its results may prove inconclusive given that the profile of participants is so open and uncontrollable (eg. unknown reading ability and reading conditions etc). From a quantitative perspective independent of context, it will be interesting to see what is the preferred web font and at what size etc. However, optimum text sizes are difficult to measure due to the varying x-heights of different typefaces. Optimum line height and column width (line length) are also dependent on font and size choice. Whatever the outcome, it will provide an insight into web readers favourite text preferences. Whether or not these will provide definitive answers to web legibility questions remains open to further debate. The results will be published later in the summer.
Kevin Larson has an article about eye strain in the current issue of Eye, his empirical methods for studying legibility factors on screen have been impressive to date (though he does have the backing and resources of Microsoft behind him!).
Most notable are:
Ted Harrison and Yuri Yarmola, Font Lab
Flash Photofonts – the Holy Grail of Web Typography?
Simon Daniels, Microsoft
Web font embedding rides again!
In the main programme, there are many big names in the line-up, including the likes of Matthew Carter, but most of the presentations focus on traditional typography. Other speakers that may be of interest include David Crow, John Berry and the keynote has yet to be announced.
On the legibility and accessibility side of things, Kevin Larson from Microsoft with his aptly titled presentation Better than a poke in the eye also looks promising considering Larson’s previous work in this area.
Poynter just launched the results of their recent study EyeTrack07 about the nature and comparison of reading a newspaper in print versus online. Some of the main findings appear surprising at first:
A larger percentage of story text was read online (77%) than in print (62%).
63% of online readers read their selected stories to completion compared with 40% in print.
Alternative story forms – like Q&A’s, timelines, short sidebars and lists – help readers understand.
When you consider these findings in the context of the general explosion and prevalence of the weblog in all its forms, and the sharp increase in ‘community’ related content in the last couple of years, perhaps they are not so surprising after all.
I recently attended the Future of Web Design (FOWD) conference in London and almost every speaker referred to their audience not as readers, but predictably as users, and more interestingly as members. Bearing this in mind, when I read about the EyeTrack07 study, it makes sense that readers on screen want to interact with the text and the stories they are reading, and how this interactivity provides a spur on to further or deeper reading. In terms of the typographic design and layout of text on screen, it is clear that designers need to engage in stronger critical analysis of textual matter, in conjunction with editors and writers, in order to determine what interactive strategies can be best employed to create both an engaging and easy to use reading experience. Perhaps these concerns are just as important for designers of screen texts as tradition formal design decisions relating to typographic expression and hierarchy.
The other interesting aspect of this study is in the empirical methods it employs. Here is the beginning of some hard data providing key information about the nature of how we read on screen, which is a relatively new experience when compared to centuries of a culture of print reading. Although this is still a relatively new field of research, Poynter and other key researchers such as Mary Dyson and Kevin Larson are making significant contributions which will help designers and content creators working with on screen textual material in the same way that ground breaking research from the likes of Miles Tinker and Herbert Spencer influenced design for print.