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Re: line length and myth of the fold


From: Moore, Michael
Date: Apr 18, 2008 8:20AM

Regarding the 80 character line count from the W3C's WCAG 2.0 Visual
Understanding SC 1.4.8 and the difficulty of ensuring that the text
width does not exceed 80 characters. The techniques section of the
article includes not interfering with reflow. Thus if a users display
device allows the text to extend beyond 80 characters that is not an
issue. The user can control the line length by adjusting the width of
the browser window, if that improves readability for them.

The idea behind many accessibility concepts is not to interfere with the
user's ability to transform content as needed so that he or she can
understand what is there. Just a few examples:

1. Text scaling allows users to increase text size to a comfortable
2. Text alternatives allow users with screen readers to transform visual
elements into sound.
3. Overridable foreground and backgrounds on stylesheets allow users to
adjust color and contrast to meet their needs.
4. Reflowable content allows users adjust the line length of the text to
improve readability.

Some things that we do require the use of assistive technologies to
complete the transformation, but increasingly accommodation is available
through the browser itself. What many designers and "marketing
professionals" need to understand is that with the web, it is not even
possible to predict the environment in which the content will be viewed.
IMHO an effective web page will always emphasize substance over style.
Outright heresy in the marketing world.


-----Original Message-----
[mailto: <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Karl Groves
Sent: Friday, April 18, 2008 8:01 AM
To: 'WebAIM Discussion List'
Subject: Re: [WebAIM] line length and myth of the fold

> -----Original Message-----
> From: <EMAIL REMOVED> [mailto:webaim-forum-
> <EMAIL REMOVED> ] On Behalf Of Christophe Strobbe
> Sent: Friday, April 18, 2008 8:34 AM
> To: WebAIM Discussion List
> Subject: [WebAIM] line length and myth of the fold
> Hi Karl,
> At 13:51 18/04/2008, Karl Groves wrote:
> > > I think something like the Jello Mold approach
> > > (...) is better - the page width (...) has both minimum and
> > > maximum widths to accommodate readability (not so narrow that
> > > things break and not so wide that
> it's
> > > difficult to read long lines of text).
> > >
> >
> >Not to totally derail this thread, but I'd like to point out that the
> belief
> >that long lines of text is bad is rather unfounded. I've read a
> number of
> >usability studies which have come to the conclusion that reading
> performance
> >(speed and accuracy) does not differ significantly between line
> lengths[1].
> >Some studies indicate there is a preference difference but I'm not
> convinced
> >that's significant enough evidence to avoid long lines of text
> >because
> by
> >shortening lines of text you also run into issues with content being
> pushed
> >below the fold. In my experience observing users in the lab, having
> >important content placed below the fold is far more likely to cause
> >information to go unnoticed by users.
> I'd be very interested in the other studies you know, since line
> length is now in WCAG 2.0 (SC 1.4.8:
> <http://www.w3.org/TR/2007/WD-UNDERSTANDING-WCAG20-
> 20071211/complete.html#visual-audio-contrast-visual-presentation>).

I'll be sure to post them in the next day or so. I certainly wonder
where they came up with 80 characters and who did so.

> With regard to content above or below the fold, I thought that there
> was research debunking this myth. See for example the article at
> <http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/blasting-the-myth-of>;.

The issue is primarily in the idea that people may not know there is
content below the fold, primarily when the page "looks done" - in other
words when the design of the page gives the impression that everything
is above the fold. I once sat in on a study with a major government
website where users needed to interact with an interface that was
designed in such a way that gave the impression that everything they
needed to work with was already there. Almost every participant missed
that important stuff was below the fold.

Does that mean that we need to make sure everything is above the fold?
But what it does mean is that it needs to be readily apparent that there
is content below the fold. I think on a practical level, this means
*avoiding* that illusion of completeness. This is Gestalt psychology
101, really

I think it bears mentioning that the Boxes and Arrows article you linked
above cites some automated click tracking study which tracked whether or
not people scrolled. Automated tools are no more suitable for Usability
than they are for Accessibility - actually less so. The idea that
scrolling is OK because people scroll means nothing. What matters is
whether or not people actually saw what they were looking for and were
able to complete a task successfully and efficiently. To use an analogy
suitable for this forum, think of this as saying some web page passed an
accessibility check merely because there were alt attributes on images.
What matters is the content of the alt attributes, not whether they
exist - again, something no automated tool can tell that.

Karl Groves

> Best regards,
> Christophe
> >1 - http://hubel.sfasu.edu/research/textmargin.html is just one of
> maybe 8
> >studies I know of.
> >
> >Karl Groves
> ---
> Please don't invite me to LinkedIn, Facebook, Quechup or other "social

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> haven't.
> --
> Christophe Strobbe
> K.U.Leuven - Dept. of Electrical Engineering - SCD Research Group on
> Document Architectures Kasteelpark Arenberg 10 bus 2442
> B-3001 Leuven-Heverlee
> tel: +32 16 32 85 51
> http://www.docarch.be/
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