You are on page 1of 1

Take a deep breath. There are 1,274 words on this page.

That's actually fewer than in the average COLORS story. But this time we've done nothing
whatsoever to make you want to read them. No short captions. No big pictures. No pretty colors. In fact, the chances that you will take the time to
read to the end ofthe page are virtually nil. You're biologically disadvantaged, to start with. Humans haven't evolved to read, explains visual
psychologist Arnold Wilkins of Essex University, UK. "We're used to using two eyes to grasp tools, but reading isn't natural. Text has been around a
relatively short time. Humans are more accustomed to scenery a tree, say, or a view of the horizon that contains plenty of natural clues to guide
the brain around it. The experts call it spatial differentiation. It means that when you look at a scene you can identify a particular branch, because of
its position on the tree, perhaps, or because its individual characteristics make it different from other branches. [Congratulations on getting this far,
incidentally. Most people have only an eight-second attention span.] Text, by contrast, is "self-similar it's all pretty much
the same. Nothing leaps out to grab your attention. To read it, your right eye jerks across the line, landing on the middle third of each word. Your left
eye follows a fraction behind. Together, they take in the other two-thirds of the word before moving on to the next one. Sometimes they'll skip a word
and have to move back skip a word and have to move back. All in all, reading is not simple. Then, there's the layout of the text itself. At a distance,
the horizontal lines of text form stripes. You're probably not aware of it, but to your eyes, "striped" text (like that in a book) shimmers, contributing
to the mild stress of reading. And why should you read this story, anyway? Thousands of other things are clamoring for your attention: The total of
all printed knowledge doubles every eight years. On November 13,1987, The New York Times newspaper was 1,612 pages long, contained more
than 12 million words and weighed 5.4kg, the size of healthy newborn twins. It's not just print, either: "There's something in the story that people
have been trained to take in sound bites and visual bites, says Arnold Wilkins. "Information is presented in short chunks, so people aren't prepared
to concentrate for a long time." In the 1960s, a one-minute TV commercial consisted of eight to 12 images or camera shots. A recent soft drink
commercial aimed at young people consisted of 22 images in a 30-second period-about one image a second. The average TV viewer with a remote
control changes channels 35 times an hour. No wonder advertisers have understood that they shouldn't use sentences of more than four words, says
US media psychologist Dr. Bernard Luskin. ("Just do it!") The point is, there are so many places your attention might wander to, the odds are stacked
against your reading to the end of an article even before you begin. So newspapers and magazines spend a considerable amount of time trying to
capture your interest. To do that, they need to know how you read. Pegie Stark Adam led a study a few years age for the Poynter Institute for media
studies in Florida, USA. "We used two tiny cameras that tracked exactly where people's eyes moved on the page, recording where the eye stopped,
how long it stayed at certain places, where it traveled first, second, third and fourth, and so on," she explains. 95 percent of readers looked at photo-
graphs first. That doesn't surprise visual psychologist Arnold Wilkins. "Like natural scenes, the spatial content of a photo varies with its spatial scale."
Even if you're a college graduate, there's a chance that you're [637 words you're halfway through] comfortable with only one-fifth of your language
vocabulary. So here's a translation of Professor Wilkins' quote: "Photographs are more varied than text." Consequently, the information is easier to
take in. After photographs, you may read the photo captions; but your eyes will probably jump to the headlines. The bigger the better? Not necessar-
ily. Hold this page away frem your face. Whatever stands out at a distance is what your eyes will be attracted to as they move across the page. Bold
text catches attention more than big text, although it pays to use headlines sparingly: "If you always have a huge headline," says Simon Esterson of
Britain's The Guardian, "what are you going to do when World War III breaks out? And anyway, a page full of huge headlines gets boring." Instead,
designers set up a hierarchy of headlines to tell you how important a story is. "Developing a headline is an extraordinarily developed skill," continues
Dr. Luskin. "It's designed to catch your attention in passing and get you to focus to a higher level of interest. If you can get even a fragment of
attention, then you have something. Then you simply use repetition." Studies have shown that to commit something to memory, you have to go over
it en four separate occasions. It works the same with print media. The more you read of a genre, the more familiar you get with it, and the easier it is
to read. In fact, familiarity is one of the strongest weapons newspaper designers can wield. We have a whole vocabulary of headlines that we under-
stand and that we hope our reader understands subliminally, says Tom Bodkin, chief designer at the New York Times. If you read the paper for any
length of time, you get a feeling for what's important based on the style of the headline, the position on the page, all those little clues. It's a very
complex language. Columns help to order the information. There's a lot to cram in, after all: The entire script of a half-hour TV news bulletin would
fit in one page of a broadsheet newspaper. And coler makes it more attractive. "Readers told us they like color on a page, says Pegie Stark Adam,
because they felt the pages with color on them had the most information, and they read more. Actually, when you study the tapes, they didn't read
more, they just imagined they read more because of the color, which was really interesting." [Or was it? Did you read those 54 words without skipping
any?]. Devices such as paragraphs, subheads and indents are meant to ease your reading, breaking up the article and encouraging the reader's
attention to stay focused. [There should be a new paragraph here, for example]. So why do some people read newspapers that look boring, but don't
read magazines that look exciting? The real secret of why you're still reading this story is CONTENT. "Design is about content, all the way along,"
says Ally Palmer of The European. "If you don't have content, you have nothing." The aim of media is to make the shift from peripheral attention
(when you notice something in passing) to focused attention (when you stop and read or look at it). The surest, 100-percent foolproof way of doing
that is to offer readers something that interests them. The Poynter Institute study discovered that people generally only read 25 percent of a newspa-
per. One ef the stories the test group read contained no pictures, no subheads, and no color. In short, none of the usual devices. But 95 percent of
people read it from start to finish. Why? It was about the difficulties of finding a baby-sitter. So if you've got far, it's because you wanted to. And now,
back to the design tricks.