“Readers are fickle”

A Reading Note

Roger Black, writing in U&lc in 1988:

Perhaps once, a long time ago, there were those who had nothing better to do than to curl up with a good magazine; just give them lots of text (all in about nine-point, with some headlines in, say, 24-point), and they’d start from the beginning and read right through to the end.

But today, millions of good Americans are jogging when they ought to be reading magazines.

They’re working out. Or else they’re sitting, nearly comatose, watching some ballgame on TV. Their magazines are piled in the corner, with their cats sleeping on them, neglected. When they do pick up a magazine, their attention span is short. They are constantly distracted.

The phone rings, or the kid demands to be taken some place in the car; the dog wants to be let out. And there is always the seductive remote unit on that coffee table, beckoning—for them to change the channel, or to switch to a new CD, the VCR, the casette deck.

Just how can those of us in the magazine game go about getting them all back into the fold? Well, I have an answer, and through the courtesy of U&lc’s editors, I’m quite ready to propose it. The answer is type! Better type, and a great deal more of it.

Berry, U&lc, page 81

People have been distracted from reading for the better part of several generations now. And yet, we still read. If our web habits are any indicator, we read more than we used to. But the shape of that reading—the type—determines whether we lose ourself in that reading, or else skitter from one text to the next. Design a distracted reading experience, and you’ll have distracted readers. Design for immersion—and, well, don’t be surprised if it works.

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John D. Berry

U&lc was a magazine of experimental typography, founded by Herb Lubalin in 1973, and published through 1999. John D. Berry’s tome includes reproductions of many of the original issues, plus notes on the history of the magazine from Berry and others.