Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jakob Nielsen Post on Kindle-Friendly Content

The TOC Blog pointed me to Jakob Nielsen's recent post, "Kindle Content Design." Nielsen raises a number of interesting issues, and in general I think we're in violent agreement, but his post ends with this:
Since I started writing Alertbox in 1995, it's been a recurring theme to design for the medium. In the beginning, this meant "don't design your website like a glossy brochure." (I.e., print design is different than online design.)

For Kindle, it's certainly unacceptable to simply repurpose print content. But you can't repurpose website content, either. For good Kindle usability, you have to design for the Kindle. Write Kindle-specific headlines and create Kindle-specific article structures.

I fully agree with the part about designing for the medium, but I don't think Kindle is a medium in and of itself. There are a number of other dedicated book-reading devices, and my guess is that they are similar enough to one another that it's possible to design for the entire category. As an author, I don't want to try to create content on a device-by-device basis, I want to do it on a device-category-by-device-category basis. That may not yield optimal content presentation for every device, but it should yield acceptable presentation for devices I know about as well as devices I don't know about (e.g., that are introduced after I've finished writing). Yes, my software development roots keep showing: I approach cross-platform content authoring the same way I approach cross-platform software authoring.


Jakob Nielsen said...

Actually I agree with you.

It's the same issue as for mobile devices: you can't afford to design separate UIs for each phone, but for good usability, you should design different UIs for each class of phone (e.g., regular cellphone vs. smartphone vs. touchphone).

We have studied mobile usability in great detail (see For e-book readers, the info is more limited, based on Kindle 2 and no other models.

It may or may not be possible to treat all e-book readers as a single device category. Or maybe there will be big and small readers, with different requirements. This remains to be seen and will require some usability research for the detailed guidelines to be worked out. Unfortunately, I don't think most publishers will bother conducting such usability studies.

Scott Meyers said...

I've written in other blog posts (e.g., about conditional formatting and conditional content) that I believe the way to divide things is along capability boundaries, so rather than talking about "ebook readers" or "mobile phones," we should talk about "color-enabled devices with big screens and internet access" or "greyscale devices with medium-sized screens and internet access," etc. This puts you and I again, I suspect, in violent agreement. I also agree that publishers are unlikely to perform usability studies (beyond "throw it out there and see what sells"). In fact, I believe that, at least in the area of technical publishing, most publishers are likely to have authors themselves perform much of the pioneering and experimental work that will ultimately lead us forward in the age of multiple-platform publishing.