Page Layout

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Usability can be drastically improved through organised page layout. Typography is particularly important when the content of a page is primarily text. Good typography sets the layout by providing "overall pattern and contrast". Figure 7.0a illustrates how regular repeating patterns established through carefully organised text and graphics help the reader to locate and organise information and also increase legibility (Lynch & Horton, 1999). Well-structured documents help the reader to predict where information is located. Headers followed by sub-headings for example indicate to the reader that the most important information is located at the top of the page. Convention, established over thousands of years in the book trade should not be dismissed on the web. Our brains still look for the same visual cues on the web as in print.

Fig 7.0a The homogeneous layout of the left hand page is much more logical to read than the heterogeneous layout on the right page (Lynch & Horton, 1999).

"Many steps in mental growth are based less on the acquisition of new skills than on building new administrative systems for managing already established abilities" (Minsky, 1988). Understanding the new "administrative system" that is the Web is key to understanding how traditional theories of the quality of "good" documentation can be redefined (Shirk, H.N as cited by Barrett, E. 1988)

The Web is a fast medium and one thing that differs on the web compared to print format is our concentration span. The low resolution of computer screens make reading web pages very tiring. According to Lynch & Horton (1999), "the layout of most web pages violates a fundamental rule for book and magazine typography: the lines of text on most web pages are much too long for easy reading". They state how, "at normal reading distances the eye's span of acute focus is only about three inches wide" so book publishers keep their text in dense passages of similar length. "Wider lines of text require readers to move their heads slightly or strain their eye muscles". Readers lose track of what they are reading because of "the long trip back to the left margin". Large blocks of text therefore don't work effectively and would be better if they were broken up into shorter sentences and placed on separate pages.

Web pages should be composed of concise prose and bullet points to convey information quickly and efficiently. What may seem trite on paper is acceptable in electronic format. To achieve the "best balance between space efficiency and legibility", they advise constructing tables no wider than 365 pixels (see figure 7.0b), which when filled with 12pt Times New Roman type, yields a cell of about 50 characters in length and averaging about nine to 10 words per line.

Publication Date: Monday 14th July, 2003
Author: Ukwdc View profile

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