When I talk about the way we see people using Web sites, I often refer to the way they see items on a page as a “searchlight view.” That is, people’s eyes move about the page, focused on one small bit of it at a time and quickly moving on.
That’s why I don’t believe that headings above lists of links mean much to people and why I insist that many links contain what for some seems to be repetitive information. Of course we are in the [X] Division area of the Web site! Why do we have to repeat that in the link to Contacts?
Mark Coker at VentureBeat has found research that shows our systems for the written word are all wrong.
Scientific research conducted by Walker Reading Technologies, a small Minnesota startup that has been studying our ability to read for the last ten years, has concluded that the natural field of focus for our eyes is circular, so our eyes view the printed page as if we’re peering through a straw.
And a very bad-behaving straw at that, because not only do our eyes feed our brain the words we’re reading, they’re also uploading characters and words from the two sentences above and below the line we’re reading.
Every time we read block text, we’re forcing our brain to a wage a constant subconscious battle with itself to filter and discard the superfluous inputs. This mental tug of war slows reading speed and diminishes comprehension.
Walker cites a US Education Department study that found that students who read text books using the formatting that takes this reality into account have added 10-15 percentile points on standardized English tests.
Walker has created a product called Live Ink that enables online publishers to improve reading speed and comprehension and provided a demonstration of the formatting changes.