What is the optimal line length?

There isn’t one.

It depends on whether you want your users to read the page faster or you want them to like the page.

Research by Dyson (reference below) showed that users read web pages faster at an optimum length of 100 characters and longer. However, when asked, they prefer shorter line lengths and believe they read these faster (even though they don’t).

Dyson, M.C. (2004). “How Physical Text Layout Affects Reading from Screen.” Behavior & Information Technology, 23(6), pp. 377-393


iPad. How tablets will change the web

The waiting is over! Apple have just announced their much anticipated tablet, iPad. What do you think? Will you be getting one?

Context of use

I did wonder what the purpose of tablets were. What do they give you that a laptop and mobile don’t? The answer is portability, speed, lightness and a large direct touch interface. In my opinion, tablets will be used primarily for personal use in the home, such as lounging round on the sofa surfing the net, playing games or reading an e-book (use cases whereby a laptop would be too bulky but a phone wouldn’t give you the screen size to enjoy the task). The iPad is perfectly aimed at the majority of home users who just need a device for web surfing, playing music, watching movies, storing photos, playing games and more fun stuff!

How tablets will change the internet

Web pages are currently designed for mouse-based scrolling interaction. Most users have mice with scroll wheels. This makes scrolling quick and efficient, so web pages are often designed to be scrollable, thereby fitting more content onto a single page.

Tablets require a different interaction paradigm due to their touch user interface. To use the flicking gesture to scroll would be tiresome, frustrating, even dizzying on a large device such as the iPad. The ideal interaction style for a touch tablet is for the whole web page to fit the tablet screen, the user then sees an overview of the page and can zoom in to the areas they are interested in.

Apple have priced the iPad very competitively, they want the iPad to be a household device. Judging from the comments i’ve seen so far on Facebook and Twitter, people want one! It really could be the next big thing.

Be prepared, if it is as successful as the iPhone, you will need to think about the design and interaction of your website to make it more ‘tablet-friendly’.

Tablet-friendly design:

– Remove (or limit) scrolling
– Each page fits the tablet screen space (remembering portrait and landscape modes)
– Design for a ‘zoomable’ interface
– Think finger-friendly hit areas
– Don’t overcrowd the page. Draw the user to where you want them to click by using space, pictures and larger text size.
– Don’t make text titles too small. Users should be using the ‘zoom in’ action because they want to read more, not because they can’t read the text.

More on the iPad to come!

Google – keeping it simple

Have you noticed that for some time now Google have been gradually adding more and more links to their homepage? This is typical ‘Feature creep‘ and unfortunately happens a lot.

Feature creep is when “extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and so can result in over-complication, or “featuritis”, rather than simple, design” (wikipaedia).

Google became the best search engine because of it’s simplicity. Think about it…what do you users really need on a search engine site? Strip it right back and all they actually need is a search box to type in and a button to press to get the results. They aren’t distracted by unnecessary clutter. They have one aim and they can perform it efficiently and effectively, achieving greater satisfaction.

However, even Google hasn’t managed to escape the dreaded ‘feature creep’. Recently it had begun to look like this:

Disappointing hey? The once simple site has become crowded with links.

BUT fear not! Google have recognised their featuritis and have tackled it head on with a rather ingenious solution. Now when you go to Google, it’s like going back in time to the old days when there was just a big search box and button. This is what you see:

Doesn’t it feel good? Very very simple. The cursor is positioned inside the search box so all the user needs to do is type and hit the return key or the search button. However, what about all the other features? Surely some of them were useful? Yes they were. Now for the clever part…. if the mouse is moved even slightly all the extra features fade in (via a nice transition). They are there if the user needs them.

Why does this work?

If the user wants to quickly search it is most likely they are poised ready to type as soon as the google page loads up. By positioning the cursor inside the search box, there is no need to touch the mouse. Users going to Google primarily to search have an excellent experience. Simple, fast and effective.

Users going to Google to do anything other than search will be used to having to use their mouse. Their existing mental model involves using the mouse. They may be slightly surprised upon seeing the new screen, but one tiny movement and the hidden features appear.

Search use case – keyboard focussed

Other use cases – mouse focussed

The new design provides a good fit between the interaction style of the user and the site behaviour.