UX Principle: Digestibility

Summary: Why digestibility helps your users read and take action at the same time.

Imagine trying to eat a whole watermelon at once! Unless you’re a Hippo, that would be impossible. Melons are easier to digest when sliced into bite-size pieces allowing you to digest them properly. The same goes for websites; they’re easier to understand when broken down into bite-size pieces.

In order for people to understand things easily, it’s important that you break down information into small chunks or summaries.

These small chunks and summaries help your website visitors not only understand your message quicker, but they also absorb the information which means they’re more likely to take action.

Tip: Your design should make it easy for the brain to digest information by removing the need for paragraphs of explanations.

Your Users Should Only Need to Scan Content Understand it

When people read online, they scan content to find what they want. Whilst scanning, website users pick out the information they need to make a decision; bounce (to another site) or take action (e.g. buy a product or view internal pages). Summarising content, using key titles and imagery will lead your website visitors to what they want.

Example: Dropbox (see below) breaks up it’s home page into 3 main sections (2 of those sections shown below). Each section has a title, short summary (to backup the title) and a visual of the software. If you just read the titles and view the images, you quickly build an idea of Dropbox and have enough information to signup.

Good UX Example Dropbox

Action: Review a website you’ve worked on recently. Figure out ways in which you can breakdown and summarise the content. A good place to start is the home page – is your headline clear and simple? Are there paragraphs you can break down into shorter sentences.

We Remember the Big Picture Better Than the Detail

Did you know: 50% of your brain power goes to your eyes and processes what you see into information.

As you read this, your brain is interpreting each letter as an image. This makes reading incredibly inefficient when compared to how quickly and easily we can take in information from a picture.

We Process and Take Action at the Same Time

The fact that our brain works this way highlights the importance of digestibility. Easy to digest content allows people to process the information on your site, whilst deciding on the next action to take e.g. buy a product or download an ebook.

Action: Keep a large diagram that explains the big picture or the core message of what you’re doing and use it to determine each major concept or section on your website.

For example: Podio, a project management tool, gives people and businesses task management, meeting scheduling and everything that comes with project management. Take a look at the example below and see how the titles on each section of their home page relate to their “big picture”, in this case project management.

Podio Digestibility Headline Example

Podio highlights terms such as ‘Get your teams working in sync’ and ‘FAST COMMUNICATION’ – messages that are succinct and related to the big picture of project management.

Reader’s Digest – America in Your Pocket

It’s clear that DeWitt Wallace understood and loved the digestibility principle so much that he named his own magazine after it – Reader’s Digest.

Wallace wanted his readers to be able to get as much value from his magazine as possible by giving them interesting and valuable content that they’d actually be able to read in one month.

Here’s Wallace’s ‘big picture; statement:

“Thirty-one articles each month from leading magazines. Each article of enduring value and interest, in condensed and compact form.” DeWitt Wallace, Reader’s Digest 1922

Readers Digest 1922

Wallace had the idea to gather a sampling of articles on many subjects, condensing and rewriting them to combine them into one magazine.

Halving Time, but Not Halving the Value

With its pages half the size of most American magazines, Wallace condensed information into understandable summaries; hence the nickname “America in your pocket”.

This curation of content and the way it was broken down allowed it’s readers to understand more, by giving them less.

Reader’s Digest become the largest paid circulation magazine in the world because it was informative and easy to digest making it usable and useful.

Exercise: Take a screengrab of the next website you use, cut the depth or width of the page by half. Take the content (words, images, etc) and condense them on the page, but don’t lose any of the actions such as buttons or links.

Remember to consider the big picture or the core concept that the website is trying to communicate to ensure you’re still conveying the right message.

Conclusion: Big Picture + Summary = Digest

With attention spans getting shorter and websites loading at the speed of light, ‘digestibility’ is the key to communicating your message.

Break down paragraphs into sentences, use imagery and titles that are focused around your core message.

When designing a site with digestibility in mind, users will have an easier time understanding what you do, get more value from your content and therefore are more likely to take action.

Remember, your website is a delicious watermelon and your users are ready to eat.