As a teen, I learned to speed read using a machine that brought each line of text up into my line of vision like a teleprompter, pushing me to consume each sentence at a glance. Once I had the skill, I transferred it to books by moving my eyes down the page instead of the page moving up to meet my eyes.
But now that I do the majority of my reading digitally, I’ve naturally graduated to a hybrid of the two which Poynter says is becoming the norm for tablet readers.
The Poynter Institute is training a new generation of journalist and that means looking at how our reading habits are changing to meet digital requirements. For their new study “Poynter EyeTrack: The Tablet,” they monitored two groups of people, 18-28 year-old “digital natives” and 45-55 year-olds “printnets.” (People who grew up with print but have moved on to the internet.)
What they found is that the form and function of a tablet is already influencing the way we read. For example, magazines and books are mostly vertical but 70% of the participants in the study preferred to read with the tablet in the horizontal position. This ties in to the fact that readers had an “overwhelming instinct to swipe horizontally” when moving through a photo gallery.
This preference for landscape mode means a big shift for content providers and web designers. We’ve been trained to think in “portrait” mode; top to bottom like a newspaper column, scrolling down for additional content. To compensate for this change in reading structure, Poynter found that people subtly, but constantly kept touching the screen to move the content up into the line of vision instead of moving their eyes down the page.
Touching is a huge part of the tablet experience and the study showed that people wanted to touch often, even if they didn’t have to in order to consume the material. To this end, they say we have to start crafting content that engages both the hand and the brain.
One of the odd facts to come out of the study is the relationship between the number of options and the completion of one. Stay with me here. The study offered readers three types of pages, a traditional newspaper style with a few photos but mostly text headlines, a carousel with 20 evenly sized photos with small headlines under each, and a Flipboard with four, uneven, large photos, one from each category of news
50% of readers preferred the carousel, 15% chose the flipboard. That means only 35% of readers gravitated toward the front page scheme that most content producers use. Ouch. As a text person, I hate graphical navigation but it looks like I better get used to it as it’s slowly becoming the norm (Windows 8!).
Next interesting point, the number of items they reviewed had a direct correlation on the whether or not they finished reading a story once they picked it. Finishers looked at an average of 18 items before reading one, non-finishers only looked at 9 before picking.
Lesson here: more is better. You won’t be distracting readers with a dozen choices, you’ll be helping them hone in on the most relevant story.
Finally, let’s talk bail out.
The study found that 78.3 seconds was the average bail out point on a tablet story. After that, the reader was either out or in for the duration. To keep people engaged, Poynter suggests the addition of a “gold coin” at the bail out point; some kind of link, graphic or interactive element that will reengage not just the mind, but the finger as well.
Toucha, toucha, toucha, touch me! Fingerprints on the tablet are a sign that your message is getting through.