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How little do web users read?
Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

How do users read on the web?
They don’t.

According to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, people rarely read web pages word-by-word.  Instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

In fact, Nielsen has recently drawn attention to a study on web use that concludes visitors read at most 28% of the words on an average page visit.  But, he believes 20% is a better rule of thumb.

So, what does all this mean for public involvement?

  • Keep text simple – and to a minimum.  Public involvement tools shouldn’t put people off with piles of text.  Instead, messages can be communicated in tables or creative images. Plus, tricks like bullets and bold font are still better than nothing.
  • But, the real task is to create a truly participant-centred experience.   We think public involvement is about creating a transformative communication experience between hosts and participants.  And, new technologies make this possible.  Online, video, audio and flash animation create simple, powerful and breathtaking experiences that people can actively engage with.

One day, it would be fun to hear what Jakob Nielsen thought of our public involvement tools. We’ve certainly used his advice to design online experiences we think are truly accessible.

… But if he’s right, you’ve probably given up reading this blog post anyway.  So, I’ll sign-off here!

– Ellis Westwood –

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