Bringing Back Readability to Web Design
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Bringing Back Readability to Web Design

By Mainak Biswas November 13, 2015 - 1,783 views

Text readability has to be a priority in web designing. Even an interesting piece of content will not be effective in its delivery if it is not readable. Readability does not mean that the text is illegible but that it takes time to read the text. If visitors have to struggle to read the text and read between the lines to understand what they are trying to know, they’ll soon abandon your website and look for other sources.

A text web page is not a textbook or an offline MS Word article where visitors would like to sit through longer duration to comprehend the content. Netizens often lack patience as they are in a hurry to grasp a lot of information in minimum time.

Text still dominates

Despite evolution in content delivery through infographics, explainer videos, eBooks, images, audio books etc; text continues to occupy the central position. All other mediums are secondary and supportive components. Text is required to elaborate a point.

Many web designers have failed to recognize the importance of highlighting text resulting in a glum-looking incomprehensible web page. A good designer always delivers understandable content at a quick glance. Easy to read pages always find more acceptance among visitors and consequently, brings more traffic to your web site. This clearly indicates that designers must keep in mind the visual perception of readers while designing a web page.

There are many factors to why readability suffers on a website and this article is going to discuss all the necessary factors required to make a web page more readable.

1.      Optimum line length

Line length is an essential criterion when it comes to rating the readability experience. The optimum line length for web is considered to be 50-60 characters. Readers experience inconvenience if the line length is too wide or too narrow. A wide line length will sap the concentration of the readers as they will have to browse through longer lines and end up jumping to the wrong line after one line is finished. On the other hand, if the line length is too narrow, readers again feel distracted as continuous shift of lines becomes exhaustive and breaks the reading rhythm.

Fixed width will not be able to adapt to multiple screen sizes existing today. While liquid layout will be too flexible by adjusting to varying screen sizes but generating random line lengths. For that reason, it is always advisable to adopt a semi-fluid layout which adapts to readers’ screen besides retaining sufficient control over the width of text blocks to ensure optimum line length.

2.      White space is good

White space is the space between the elements of a web page. Many designers do not realize the importance of white space in design thinking that it is waste of space. On the contrary, it is purposely left to enhance the user experience. White space also refers to the space between the letters which may vary depending upon the type of font, font size and line spacing. The purpose of web design is to make things easier for readers. And by leaving white space, you are getting rid of cluttered pages. The reading experience becomes effortless and readers are more likely to stay longer on the page.

3.      Contrast

To differentiate one element from another on a web page, it is important to use contrast. Contrast pulls reader’s attention and builds interest in reading. The page looks drab if there is no differentiation between different elements. Though many designers associate contrast with only color, apparently, it is much more than that. Designers can also bring contrast through alignment and size difference.

There are different areas on a web page including header, footer and content area. You can bring in contrast through background color and font color to highlight a particular area more than the other. It is very important to concentrate while working with color combination. The background color should be starkly different from font color.

If the color contrast is a limitation or a no-go for you then you can probably use different font size for different sections. Supposedly, there are three columns on a web page, and the middle column contains the most essential information, then you can use a bigger font size for the middle column as compared to the other columns.

On the other hand, if your content is split in different paragraphs in row format, you can use a different alignment for different paragraphs. If used properly, alignment brings in interesting contrast and breaks monotony while reading.

4.      Type of fonts

Web fonts have been limited to few safe fonts for a number of years but with the advent of @font-face and WOFF, designers have a lot of options to choose from and make their design attractive. Be selective while choosing a particular typeface in line with the content in picture. While choosing a font, you have to understand what works best on screen. Fonts like sans serif need to be optimized to improve their suitability with small screens.

5.      Line spacing

While designing you get a line spacing of 100% by default. Some website owners may think it is the best spacing to accommodate more text in less area. But the fact is your web page looks crammed as it does not let the letters breath. Optimum line spacing for a web page is considered to be between 140% -160%. It makes easier for customers to go through your website.

6.      Focus on the content

The purpose of web design is to improve the usability of your web page. And you can do so by delivering “to the point” content. Filling up your web page with too many details dissuades the visitor. Cutting out all the unnecessary details will enable the visitor to extract more details on a quick look.

Use objective language as much as you can to hit straight at the point. Use bold format for keywords and important phrases. A long paragraph desist visitors from reading it but if the same paragraph without editing is presented in a bullet format, it significantly improves the readability of your web page. Else it is always advisable to use short paragraphs to make it easier for them to digest information.

7.      Manage your CSS well

CSS helps the visitors to move seamlessly from one page to another. With number of pages on your website, you may be worried about inconsistency in typography across the pages. It is a major turnoff for visitors to witness amateur and non-uniform typography. CSS eliminates errors and provides a consistency in typography across the website.

8.      Avoid jargons

Though jargons may seem important while delivering a research-based article, it is a futile exercise to pack your content with jargons on a web page. The web page should be easily understandable by your targeted visitors. Even if they are new to the concept you are selling, they should immediately get a gist of it by going through it. Jargons hinder your ability to communicate with new customers, thus, it is better to avoid them.

9.      Maintain a clear hierarchy

A visitor should not be stymied from exploring your web page. As soon as he steps on the page, there should be clear indication about where to start reading and how to proceed. Most visitors often look for typography differentiation to understand the different textual elements of the page. So, you can tweak typefaces and font size to establish a clear hierarchy. Although as a designer, you must not forget that defining hierarchy on a web page goes much beyond typography.

10.    Testing your web design

Testing helps you to understand your visitors better. Knowing their likes, navigation pattern and search capability will help you to optimize your design. You can’t conclude without testing that your design has a high readability. Testing is an ongoing process and should be targeted at improving visitor’s experience on your web page.

Final thoughts

The aesthetic elements in web design do matter but to some extent. The primary focus of the designer should be to improve usability of the web page. As a designer, you must possess the skill of taking a comprehensive view of the website. All your design elements including text, images etc should be well placed in a manner that enhances the reading experience.  Undeniably, text is the most important element on a page. Every designer should spend sufficient time in working on the factors responsible for reading accentuation.


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