Improve Web Readability With… Readability

Like most people, I have a backlog of things that I want to read. One of the items on my list was an article by David Pogue in the New York Times in November called “Cleaning Up The Clutter Online.” Pogue highlights a free tool for the Web called Readability that reformats Web pages to makes them significantly easier to read. Here’s some of what Pogue said about Readability

With one click, it eliminates EVERYTHING from the Web page you’re reading except the text and photos. No ads, blinking, links, banners, promos or anything else… The text is also changed to a beautiful font and size… It completely transforms the Web experience, turning your computer into an e-book reader. I think I’m in love.

My take: As a user-centric type of guy, Pogue’s description of Readability grabbed my attention. So I gave it a shot. Wow! The application does a phenomenal job of making sites easier to read. You configure it to meet your needs and voilà! Cluttered Web pages transform into easy-to-read pages.

To give you a sense of what this application can do, here are two screen shots of my previous blog post “7 Keys To Customer Experience In 2010” — before and after I applied the readability application.

The bottom line: Hopefully this is just the start to more usability-improving technologies.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

10 Responses to Improve Web Readability With… Readability

  1. An interesting tool, but it begs the question:

    Is a “Readability”-formatted site a blueprint for how the site should’ve been designed in the first place?

    I’d venture most people would think a Readability-formatted site lacked stickiness or was simply too boring.

    But, perhaps we’ve all grown so overwhelmed by widgets, ads, streaming tweets, categories, comments, Facebook and LinkedIN statuses that we’re ready for super-clean sites with loads of whitespace to become the next new thing.

  2. Great idea! Will give it a try…. less clutter is great….

  3. jobrien says:

    If nothing else, this tool would be great for the web page conversion to print view.

  4. Laura makes an excellent point: Why aren’t text–heavy websites designed for reading in the first place? For example, 16 pixels seems to be the unspoken limit for body copy despite the fact any vaguely modern monitor could easily accommodate 20px at 10-15 words a line.

  5. Bruce Temkin says:

    This stream of comments is great; thinking about what this means for the core design of Web pages, not just as a standalone application. Here are some of my thoughts:

    > It highlights what we’ve found in our evaluations of Websites: Text legibility is an enormous usability problem.
    > Given technologies like this and the capabilites of modern monitors, there’s no good reason for text legibility issues
    > Rather than letting 3rd party applications like Readability eliminate all of the additional context on a page, companies should proactively design these types of easy reading experiences into their sites
    > It certainly could be used as part of a print function
    > These lessons are even more critical for sites that target older audiences

    Keep the dialogue going!

  6. It’s easy to design web pages that look different when they’re printed (try print–previewing my employer’s blog for an example): any half capable design agency should be including print style sheets as part of their work.

    According to Jakob Nielsen it’s not just older people who dislike small text. And it’s not just font size that affects legibility: leading, measure, font face, colour and contrast all come into play, as well as the surrounding noise from long sidebars, widgets and social media links. Like you say, these factors should influence page design.

    Modern web designers tend to favour larger type and more whitespace. Two examples:

    Andy Rutledge
    Simon Pascal Klein

    Perhaps you could try a larger font size on this site… 😉 (And apologies for rambling — I’m into this stuff!)

  7. Bruce Temkin says:

    Leon: I love the passion! Agreed; several things drive text legibility. The ones that we run into the most in our evaluations are font size and color contrast. As for the legibility of this blog (which I know has problems), I do what I can inside of a free tool. 🙂

  8. Tim Ullrich says:

    It’s an interesting idea but it’s skirting around the fact that many websites offer the same, or close-to, information. You can differentiate a site by giving your writing a certain tone hoping your personality comes shining through thereby getting visitors to connect and come back. Or, you could do something interesting with the design that helps you stick out from the pack. Sticking out is important because most info on the web is still free so you need repeat visitors, not one-off Google search visitors.

    Compromises are seen on most sites like print-friendly pages that strip graphics and tend to use a different font. There’s also the dynamic font size buttons found on most sites. You can use a tool like Pogue suggest (or the No Color Firefox add-on) but then you are just grazing the website, not digesting it.

    Not all sites can look like the Drudge Report and expect to receive that kind of notoriety or traffic.

  9. Are you guys serious? If copy usability were as simple as removing all the ads and upping the point size then I’d be out of a job.
    If your copy is poorly conceived in the first place, no amount of formatting is going to encourage anyone to stick or return.
    However, if you start with a sound content strategy, then you’ll have done some serious user identification work and you’ll have mapped your messaging to your audience. And you’ll then publish these messages in the formats you know your users appreciate – whether that be long copy, quick-scan pages, video, blog post etc etc.
    When they make a tool that can automate all that, while also mapping your commercial objectives for your site against your customers’ information needs and then produce text in the correct brand tone of voice, optimised for search, leagally compliant and low maintenance, then I’m in. Otherwise it’s just another lazy excuse for not prioritising and investing in your web content. And why should customers care if you don’t?

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