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Jul 12 / Rolaine Dang

Visual Structure and Reading

Our previous chapter of Designing with the Mind in Mind explained what the Gestalt Principles were and how they aid in explaining why we see things in a particular structure. Chapter 3, a very short chapter, shows how to arrange copy in a way that is easily digestible and comprehendible. Creating a document that is easy to scan, read and comprehend requires information to be presented in some sort of structure by the use of subcategories, spacers and/or sparing use of words (see picture 3.6). Knowing and adhering to rules of graphic design like the natural way of reading from left to right or the rule of proximity also helps make reading less laborious (see picture 3.5). Lastly, chapter 3 closes with using visual hierarchy to aid with the flow of scanning/reading and help in removing irrelevant items.

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Chapter 4 talks about reading; how it is an unnatural human ability in comparison to speaking, the different ways people process words, and list of things that disrupt the reading process. Back hundreds of thousands of year ago, the human brain evolved to support spoken language. This means we are born with an innate ability to learn spoken language. As for reading, it is still an artificial skill that requires systematic instruction and practice. When reading, we first see features which are the lines and contours, then we see shapes forming from the lines and contours which are called characters or letters, numbers, etc. These characters go on to form morphemes such as “farm”, “tax,” “-ing,” and “-ed,” which when paired forms a word – “farming,” then into paragraph.

Reading involves two processes: top-down (context-driven) and bottom-up (feature-driven). Context-driven is when a person reads a whole sentence or the gist of a paragraph down to words. This uses high-level cognitive patterns. Featured-driven reading is when the brain recognizes the features or lines and shapes as characters/letters, and then them turn into words. A skilled reader may switch over to context-driven while a lesser-skilled reader may find reading labor intensive.

So what hinders a reader from becoming a successful reader?

  • The use of uncommon language – Using unfamiliar words causes a reader to come out of the automatic process. Think of sounding out a word and trying to find a possible meaning for it. 
  • Having poor legibility – The use of bad typefaces and scripts will slow down the reader because of the extra work required to decipher what word it is.
  • Bad font sizing – Too small of a font size is straining on the eyes and is hard to read (see picture 4.6).
  • Type against busy background – This again will slow down the reader due to low contrast, which is hard to read (see picture 4.7).
  • Center align – When reading something, the readers eye will automatically go to the beginning of the next line. However, center align causes shifting in the beginning of the next line.
  • Too much (unrelated) text – This approach may look tasking to read and may intimidate both skilled and regular readers (see picture 4.18).


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I hope you’re continuing to learn something, as I have. Keep reading!