Re: Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?

Subject: Re: Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?
From: Laura Lemay <lemay -at- lauralemay -dot- com>
To: Susan W Gallagher <susanwg -at- gmail -dot- com>, techwr -at- genek -dot- com
Date: Thu, 09 Aug 2007 13:05:06 -0700

Catching up on some old threads....

Susan W Gallagher wrote:
> As far as the serif/sans serif debate goes, after reading research and
> opinions for 25 years or so, I'm firmly convinced that it makes no
> difference as long as the font size, line length, and leading are set
> appropriately. Conventional wisdom always said that serif was easier to read
> because the serifs serve to lead the eye. (And here's a post by Laura Lemay
> from 1995 that supports that, but only just
> )

Ouuuw. I feel old.

The Rehe book I quoted in that post is from 1974, and as Susan noted,
the research is primarily US-based. In Europe where sans serif is more
commonly used sans is more commonly accepted as a book face.

These days, with better type design for computers, better quality
printing and more common use of sans all around, especially online, I've
come to the same conclusion Susan has -- it doesn't really matter as
long as the typography is well set.

Gene Kim-Eng wrote:
> The 7.5x9 book size is the standard for software distributed in
> retail packaging. I suspect it is preferred by retailers because
> the smaller boxes take up less space on the shelves, and not
> because of any user preference or usability study.

Retail software is produced in 7.5x9 boxes because software distribution
emerged from book distribution and used the same boxes. Software
retailers ended up buying the same shelves bookstores used. Bookstores
use that shelving because 7.5x9 (which is actually a variable size from
7 to 7.5 and 9 to 10) is one of the standard cut sizes for books.

Offset presses(in the US) work on sheets of paper 25 x 38 inches. The
ideal trade paper book size is 6 x 9 because you can fit the greatest
number of pages onto a sheet at that size. Textbooks are printed at 7+
inches wide by convention, to fit more content on the page and to
provide wider columns for diagrams. Because the consumer technical book
market originated with textbook publishers, technical books are printed
at 7.5x9, more or less. Variations in cut size result from variations
in printing and cutting equipment. (the size I see most often is
7.5x9.125, actually).

When you're printing books in quantity its usually cheapest to produce
books at 6x9, then 7.5x9, then 8.5x11. There are lots of variations in
cost these days, thanks to small-run presses, but AFAIK this is still
true for press runs of 1000 copies or more.

All of this is mostly printing tradition and has little to do with
usability. Personally I prefer the 7.5x9 size to 8.5x11 simply because
its easier to hold the book or put it in front of my computer to work
directly from it. 8.5x11 ends up being a really large form factor,
especially when you have both pages open in front of you.

Lorraine Kiewiet wrote:
> Yes, I was just rounding. Just trying to contrast 8.5 x 11 spiral bound
> books with what I have on my bookshelf and what I've produced at other
> companies.

Oh, spiral bindings.

I had a job a long time ago in which we printed all our books -- both
7.5x9 and 8.5x11 -- in spiral binding. Our users **hated** the binding.
Passionately. We put reply cards in the books and people complained
about the binding. We did documentation usability studies (really!) and
people griped about the binding. No one ever said anything about the
content, it was all binding, binding, binding.

The problem with spiral bound is in distinguishing different books on
the shelf, and in the binding getting stuck with other spiral bindings.
The solution to both problems, for us, was complicated fold-over
covers for the binding. The problem there was that the covers were kind
of a pain (you had to unfold them to use the book) and that they easily
ripped with use. At least it cut down on the complaints.

Any kind of flat binding is better than spiral, IMHO. Glue bindings,
unfortunately, have a lot of usability issues (they don't let the book
lie flat and they break if you force it) and lay-flat bindings are
really, really expensive.

No wonder we all went to online. Put the problem onto the user. You
print it! Choose your own darn binding!

If it were up to me to design a book these days (something I haven't
done in almost 15 years!) and I had a fairly large printing budget I
think I would use a 7.5x9 form factor, a lay-flat binding, a sans serif
font or a modern high quality serif font. Err on the side of a larger
font and more whitespace (one of the big realizations of being OLD is
that nothing should ever, ever be set in less than 9 pt.) I'm also
partial to spot color although usually the budget can't handle that.

Richard Lewis wrote:
> Have you ever noticed that alot of the posts on this listserv go
> on-and-on-and-on before they get to the essence of what they want to say?

(gazing about innocently) No. No, I haven't noticed that at all.


Laura Lemay Killer of Trees lemay % lemay %


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Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?: From: Lorraine Kiewiet
Re: Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?: From: Susan W Gallagher

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