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Understand how you can double the effectiveness of your publications in one simple move!

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Discover this little-known secret of ‘reading gravity’

As readers of the English language we are all taught to read a page of text by starting at the top left hand corner and working our way across each line from left to right and going down to the start of the next line at the left hand edge of the page until we reach the bottom right hand corner.

It is fundamental for the eye to automatically start at the top left corner of a page and move across and down the page, obeying ‘reading gravity’ until reaching the end of the page.

Primary Optical Area

The top left corner is called the ‘Primary Optical Area’. From there the eyes move across and down the page, obeying reading gravity and reaching the ‘Terminal Anchor’.

Any design that forces the reader to work against reading gravity cuts reader comprehension dramatically. Australian research has shown that the comprehension levels of readers viewing layout complying with reading gravity is double the comprehension levels of readers viewing the same text not complying with reading gravity.

It’s quite simple, really, but so often graphic designers and PR people create designs that make text hard to comprehend and retain – and doesn’t that undermine our efforts to communicate effectively?

Figure 1. Reading Gravity  

 

The ‘fallow’ corners are the areas that the eye tends to overlook unless a device such as a photograph or illustration is placed there to attract the eye.

According to US typographer and teacher, Edmund Arnold, the eye returns to the left hand edge of the text at start of each line. Arnold called this line the Axis of Orientation. The eye of the reader finds it easy to return the axis of orientation for each line. Any change to the axis of orientation will create awkwardness for the eye as it seeks an easy flow of words.

layout complying with reading gravity layout not complying with reading gravity

The layout of Figure 2 shows headline complying with reading gravity. The start of the headline lines up on the same vertical line as the body type.

However, in Figure 3, the start of the headline is not lined up vertically with the start of the body type, and therefore the reader finds it difficult to know where the eye should go.

Figure 2. Figure 3.  

 

Thanks to pioneering research by unsung hero, Colin Wheildon, former editor of a large Australian motoring publication, we know the exact impact of complying or not complying with reading gravity.

The impact of not complying with reading gravity is dramatic. The research results were:

Layout complying with reading gravity principles: 67% good comprehension
Layout disregarding reading gravity: 32% good comprehension

 

The lesson for us is enormous: don’t let fancy design get in the way of reader comprehension. After all, the key aim is to maximize reader comprehension and recall.

Look at it this way. If you produce 10,000 newsletters or brochures, a good layout will result in about two thirds of readers understanding and recalling your message. With a bad layout, only one third will understand and recall your message. So you will have unnecessarily wasted a third of your newsletters. You may as well have thrown them in the bin! If your boss realized you have lost so many readers through clumsy layouts, he or she would haul you in for a roasting!

Every mainstream newspaper in the world follows the principles of reading gravity because the editors know they will lose readers if their pages require too much effort to read. The findings also relate to magazine and advertising layouts. So, if you see a graphic designer losing sight of reading gravity, insist on adhering to the principle as a matter of best practice.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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