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The Future of Reading & Content Delivery on a Digital Screen - How To

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

You may 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.

Nonfiction Suffers

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.

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