Reader as User: Applying Interface Design Techniques to the Web

Karen McGrane Chauss
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Good writers recognize that readers read actively. No writer expects the reader to sit passively, eyes glazed, taking in ideas and words without question. Writers understand that readers make choices, create meaning, and take an active role in the communication of information.

When writing is published to the World Wide Web (WWW), the reader's activity becomes interactivity. Hypertext and hypermedia provide the thinking reader with the opportunity to interact both intellectually and physically with the text, images, icons, and buttons on the screen. The active reader's decisions are translated into physical actions, like selecting from options, pointing at links, and clicking to confirm choices. The web is more than simply an electronic display of information. It is an interface.

Web pages share common ground with both papertext writing and with software interfaces. In the same way that writing techniques and theoretical approaches which are appropriate to print media can be applied or adapted for use in electronic media, theories and research from interface design, human-computer interaction, and cognitive science can be used to improve web page interfaces. The intent of reader- centered writing and user-centered design is the same: to support the needs, tasks, and goals of the audience.

The recent excitement about hypermedia systems and their potential for restructuring information in previously impossible ways has led some researchers to forget or overlook the fact that even with such systems, a user (learner, reader, information seeker,) still ultimately interacts with a machine.This fact alone necessitates careful consideration of the interface issues. (Dillon 1990)

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