The Usability of Print Advertising

The way that text formatting and layout of pages on a website effects usability is a standard part of user experience thinking. In some cases, streamlining the content on a page, or moving a button around at a key conversion point, can mean millions of dollars in return. Shortly put, good web design emphasizes a visual hierarchy and fits the way people read digital text — because we don’t read, we scan. Web guy Jakob Nielsen has written articles up the wazoo about how to design easy-to-scan web pages.

But does the same hold true for print advertising?

Future Now’s blog takes a look at legendary ad man David Ogilvy’s formula for print ads: 1) a picture with “story appeal,” 2) headline that supports the narrative, 3) supportive body copy with a lowered visual emphasis.

However old-timey this formula seems now, it still fits the way people read — scanning for quick hits, and then opting-in to details. Just check out this heat map, the hot-spots showing where people focus their visual attention over time, and how Ogilvy’s layout fits natural scanning.

While great creative and innovation always come from the gut, this still showcases some interesting principals about the way we consume information. Although one thing I wonder about is if we scan even more with digital than we do with print. Does the rapidity with which we move through content increases across channels? Do we spend even less time scanning through a mobile screen than a web page, and less with a web page than a print ad? My gut says “yes.” (And my gut also says that I want a Porsche. Oh gut, why can’t you think more frugal?)