Thursday, October 09, 2008

Design to Read - Designing for People who do not Read easily

Making websites more readable ...

"Reading is a skill many of us take for granted. We learn at school, practice as adolescents and perfect (or so we hope) the ability as adults. It is something many of us do not even consider as a conscious activity. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re one of the lucky ones who read easily.

For lots of people, reading is a struggle. This might be because of an impairment or disability, poor access to literacy or because they are trying to read in a second language. There are people reading in difficult circumstances, such as in stressful, noisy jobs. There are people who ordinarily read perfectly well but today they’re suffering from a migraine or broke their glasses. They might be children who haven’t yet learned to read. They might be trying to understand something that is full of unfamiliar words or concepts. With such a huge diversity in the reasons why people do not read easily, is there anything we can do as designers that helps?


A couple of years ago, I was working with Whitney Quesenbery on a project for the Open University. As its name implies, the Open University is about openness. It has no entry requirements and a mission to reach out to people. It “promotes educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential”. We were challenged to create a site that would work equally well for a very diverse audience, and in particular for teenagers, older people, and people with poor literacy skills. For example, a large number of Open University students have dyslexia and others are studying in a second language.

We delved into the different guidelines – and found that there was more similarity than you might expect. As Whitney explains in her article "More alike than we think", many of the different guidelines we found ended up with similar advice, such as:
- Avoid long, dense blocks of text.
- Create informative headings.
- Provide the next link just where users need it."    (Continued via Usability News - Caroline's Corner, Caroline Jarrett)    [Usability Resources]


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