How to Design Books To Be Read On A Mobile Device
This is an excerpt from a chapter in my book called "The Ten Living Principles --The Craft And Creed of Transformative Digital Design". In this book, I have applied the principles of the latest research about how people read on a digital screen. This aids in up to 40% more absorption of content. You might see how this is done, with this example.
Something Completely Different Backed By the Latest Research
notice something different about the layout design of this book.
Something about the way this book is formatted.
This book has a unique value
proposition. It is the first book that I know of, that has been specifically
designed to transmit information when read from an electronic reader rather
than a paper book. I won't spell out the exact details, but you probably have noticed some subtle changes or something "different" in the
layout. You may have noticed phrasing, parsing, hinting, billboarding, white spaces, synchronous asymmetry and a soupçon of randomness and chaos. The design and science of digital reading has taken a great leap forward with the effort put into this book. It has
to do with the way we read things on electronic screens like smart phones or computer displays, and the result should make your task of absorbing this information a lot easier.
It may be slightly slower to
read, but the absorption of
information is significantly greater.
How You Read on a Digital Screen
In this Brave New electronic world, we are inundated with data, which we integrate into information. We have to do a lot more reading than our ancestors did. Everything from emails, to articles, to whitepapers and even SMS text messages vie for attention in our brains. There is a report stating that the amount we need to read has tripled in the past twenty years. That trend is not only continuing, but accelerating. So our adaptation, is a non-linear solution devised by our brains.
Nothing Is Linear
The way that the brain adapts to this flow of information, when reading from the screen of a device, is to do what is called non-linear reading. It is a type of skimming that uses both pattern recognition and meme processing to get the gist of what is written. For example Oxford Uinevritsy povred taht a prseon can raed a snetnece as lnog as the frist and lsat lteters are itncat. That iss because we don't sound out the word, but recognize it as a pattern. So we can skim quite accurately without reading all of the words. However, newcomers to the English language will find the mixed up sentence above, almost impossible to decipher. Our native ability to discern the contents of a sentence is amazing. This is sufficient for most cases, except in cases where every sentence carries a cogent, cognitive load -- like a book of information.
This process of skimming while reading, works great for a novel but nonfiction books do not fare very well on screens. Professor Ziming Liu of San Jose University found that we have adapted our reading behavior using screens to spot keywords, browse, scan and selectively fragment-read. This has negative effects on nonfiction, because we lose the capacity to read in-depth. Professor Andrew Dillon a professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas, Austin found that there is a cost to reading on screen in terms of attention and understanding.
Boosting The Words Into Your Brain From The Screen
Researchers found that absorption of information and hence the understanding of what was written suffered. Much of this arose from the dynamics of a screen with multiple sources of incoming things to read and a very distractive milieu. As a result, we are very poor time managers when it comes to reading on a screen.
Hooked On Notifications
We don't take the time to read slowly because our devices demand our attention, and we have not learned how to deflect and apportion time and management thereof for electronic information. Like Pavlov's dogs, we have become conditioned to automatically react when our smart phone announces that a new text has arrived. It is to the point that we rudely interrupt the people in front of us or in our company to check our devices, in spite of the fact that they have presence priority. It is our brain changing because of our uses of these devices.
The Brain Gain
In a further chapter, I deal with neuroplasticity and how we can change our brains for the better. Humans did not evolve to read, but after the printing press was invented, and paper information became widely promulgated, we became pretty good at it. The plasticity of our brains is such that we are always adapting. So if we continuously train the brain to read as if it was always reading from a screen, ultimately comprehension will suffer -- unless a design comes along to counter that. You have one such design in your hands right now. And, it perfectly illustrates a part of the craft and creed of transformative digital design.
Note: I will give you a hint on how to format a digital book to be read on the screen. In my book, the sentences are chunked in discrete meme parts with asymmetrical white spaces, and the paragraphs are chunked, USA Today-style, into small bites with an explanatory heading. I predict that this is the future of content delivery.
See the blog entry below on how and where to get the book.