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The digital reading experience

I’ve been writing in some fashion since first grade. I started with my own little pop-up books and then in middle school wrote a short story about an action hero fighting androids (my teacher loved it). Then came high school and the internet so I started blogging, and I haven’t stopped since. And for each case I’ve been writing to be read by others.

Performing with words

I don’t keep a diary or any writing private, I guess I don’t see the need. If I’m going to write something I want people to see it. I want people know what I think or feel or enjoy whatever story I’m telling. But only in recent years as I’ve jumped on board with a mobile tablets and fancy phones have I really thought about the digital reading experience and how that effects the writing…and more so, how that effects how I feel about my own writing.

I’m not talking about fancy page layouts with videos and sounds like you’d see on the New York Times or Pitchfork (but those are great!). No, I’m just talking about basic formatting. Titles. Paragraphs. Images. And I’m not talking about Kindle-style apps that are just for e-books. I’m talking about web sites that have chunky content; news, blogs, reviews, etc.

With the most recent redesign of my blog, I focused on what would make it easy for people read on any reasonable device. I might have gone a little bare bones but it works, of course, I also don’t have any other concerns like advertisements or other clutter. It’s just words and images. I like it and I’m happy with it, hopefully you are too. I have no shame in sending someone to my web site to read an article because I know the site overall won’t degrade the experience. Unfortunately, many other web sites haven’t caught up to this yet.

Second-hand suffering

I’ve been writing for TMA Toys & Games for a couple years now and while I love writing about the things I love, the web site overall doesn’t make reading enjoyable or convenient. I don’t own the web site so it’s not my role to do redesigns or other visual updates. I just write. And while I’ve written tens of dozens of articles that I’m proud of, I still find it hard to send people there to read it because the experience is so poor. 

I’m not trying to make an argument that my writing is worthy of a better web site. My writing is slightly above average at best, but even crappy writing should be presented in a way that lets the writing determine the quality.

If you put a beautiful painting inside a tacky frame, people will remember the frame before they remember the painting.

You could say that if the writing is any good that it’ll shine through whatever other crap is on the page. There is some truth to that but overall I don’t think that holds up to well, especially once you start throwing tablets, phones and other devices at it. Sites like Medium (and mine) look fine on just about any device, letting the words and images do their job. Loading TMA on my tablet yields the same web site where everything is small and requires zooming…and right there the experience is degraded before you’re even reading.

The last thing you want to do is tell someone to go read the great article you’ve just written followed by “but only read it on your laptop.” 

Maybe I’m thinking too hard on this and I shouldn’t let someone else’s bad decisions impact how I feel about my writing, but this whole conversation comes up in my head more and more often these days. I’m not advocating every site that has chunky content goes light on design or minimal in style, that’s not necessary, but there is a balance between visual design, business goals and written content.

It’s possible..and your writing is worth it, even if you’re the only one that reads it.