I explain in my “Why is my underwear in the microwave?” technical design post AND in my “The Other Half” user documentation post that they are mutually related to what’s stated in this post, where I discuss how newspaper comic strips seem to get it right, too.
How We First Learned To Read a Book
Let’s step back to our earliest times when our parents first taught us how to read our fairy tales. We were to go to the storybook’s first page and begin our reading at the most upper left-hand corner and read horizontally across to the right, to the last word. When we reached the end, we went to the next line down, and then to the far left to repeat. This same method continued down to the bottom line’s last word, to turn to the next page and follow the same reading process.
The fairy tale pages included graphics to help us visualize who the different characters were so we could see their various facial expressions and any situation we were mired in. This was the logical progression for first learning how to read books. Newspaper comic strips have their logical reading flows as well, which heavily includes their framed graphics.
Now that we understood the logical flow of the “how to read” process, we could read our fairy tale books on our own. And to further motivate us to read on our own, our parents would point to where we should be in our readings and emphasize us to read, left to right, top down.
My Favorite Comic Strip: Blondie
The average comic strip usually has three frames displayed in either a horizontal or a vertical format. If it’s in a horizontal format, we know to start at the left-most frame and read each across to the right. If it’s in a vertical format, we know to start at the top-most frame and read each down to the bottom.
My favorite comic strip is Blondie featuring her clumsy and always hungry husband, Dagwood Bumstead, created by Chic Young. The strip is so well-designed I’ve come to know its POV scene protocols. For example, when Dagwood’s outside his home talking to his neighbor, Herb Woodley, Herb always appears on the left side of a frame and stands further back behind his property’s horizontal bush that goes across the frame at mid-point. Dagwood, in turn, always appears in the forefront and to the right side of the frame as he stands just outside his home’s front door.
At work, when Dagwood is in his boss’s, Mr. Dithers’s office, Dagwood usually stands to the left-hand side of the frame to the backside of Mr. Dithers as Dithers sits at his desk at the right side of the frame. I’ve never seen Dagwood stand on the other side of Mr. Dithers’s desk, which I find quite interesting.
When Dagwood and Blondie are inside their home, in their living room, the POV has Dagwood at the left side of the frame sitting in his living room chair. Blondie is sitting in her living-room chair at the right-center side of the frame, at an angle somewhat away from Dagwood’s chair. Included in this frame is their TV, which is to the frame’s farthest right-hand side, barely visible from view. The TV is Dagwood’s first priority as he directly views it. Blondie is not as interested in watching TV as she’d rather read a magazine, but she still is involved in her conversations with Dagwood.
When in their bedroom and lying in bed, Dagwood’s side of the bed is closest to the left-side of its frame and Blondie’s side is closest to the right-side of the frame.
In one bedroom comic scene Blondie speaks first as she faces Dagwood directly, as her cloud of words appear above Dagwood’s head at the top left-hand corner of the frame. Blondie mentions to Dagwood, “I forget to tell you, dear, some fellow named Clarence called you today.”
Below Blondie’s cloud of words in the same first frame scene, as Dagwood gets into bed, he speaks with a degree of doubt, “Clarence?” Take note here because all of their conversations follow the left to right, top to down reading rule. Although Blondie’s graphic is on the right, her cloud speech appears above Dagwood’s cloud speech. And every comic strip, too, follows this same left to right top down format.
Blondie is not only art and nostalgia (the strip is 85 years old!)—it also carries a psychological message and much more. It’s a logical presentation as well. For life-time followers like myself, who read each day’s strip, we have the comfort of being the fly on the wall as each Blondie script scene is presented in a logical way for readers.
Why can’t computer screen pages be designed in the same top down, left to right manner? And often when they’re not, it’s not easy, user documentation-wise, because we don’t know how to perform their procedures and know where on a screen’s page to go to next to execute a step.
To Be Continued With Actual App Examples!