Processing the Page

Understanding how users process the page is an important consideration for information design. Whether the page is in print or displayed on the Web, the job of the technical writer or Web designer is often the same: provide users with information. As far as users are concerned, the faster the better. The following studies provide a basic understanding of how users process the page.

Users Scan in an F-Pattern

A 2006 study by Jakob Nielsen (The New York Times), examined data from 232 users to analyze how they read Web pages. His research shows that users quickly scan the page in an F-shaped pattern, which consists of:
  • two horizontal scans across the content area
  • one vertical scan along the left side of the content area
The F-shaped pattern has several implications for authors:
  • users won’t read text thoroughly
  • put important information in the first two paragraphs
  • left-side content (headings, bullet points) should be informative
For more information, read Nielsen’s F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content.

Users Scan, They do not Read

Usability expert Steve Krug illustrates “a common sense approach” to page design in his 2006 book Don’t Make Me Think. Krug’s Fact of Life #1: "We don’t read pages. We scan them.” The reasons for this are simple:
  • users are in a hurry
  • users don’t need to read everything
Technical writers (and Webpage designers) often assume that users read everything on the page, but that is not usually the case. Successful page design requires establishing a clear visual hierarchy to direct users to the information that they seek.

Resources

Krug, S. (2006). Don’t Make Me Think. Second Edition. Berkeley, California: New Riders Publishing Nielsen, J. (2006). F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content. Alertbox: Current Issues in Web Useability, 169, Retrieved May 3, 2012, from the World Wide Web: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html