When Readers Determine the Binding

Multiple devices with varying screen sizes. Public domain via Pixabay.

According to Market Share Reports, in August 2017 the top-used web browser on desktop computers was Chrome. Its combined versions were used by 59.38% of people online worldwide. Second place was Internet Explorer, which, combined with the stats for Edge, Microsoft’s new banner browser, accounted for 21.24% of web users. Trailing behind these were Firefox, Safari, and Opera.


To further complicate things, more and more internet users are turning to their phones and tablets to find web content on the go. Market Share Reports lists 360×640 as the most commonly used screen resolution in August at 17.56%, and Device Metrics indicate this size is in the realm of many smartphone screens. While it’s impossible to determine for sure that this resolution corresponds to only a phone’s screen size (screen size and resolution are not the same thing), it’s quite likely that a growing number of web users do in fact access content on their phones.

Screenshot from Market Share Reports depicting screen resolution data for internet users in August 2017
Screenshot from Market Share Reports depicting screen resolution data for internet users in August 2017.

With so many options for browsing environments, how can authors of digital content be sure their work appears correctly no matter where their readers encounter it? When we publish a book, we determine the object readers will be holding in front of them. With a digital project, each reader makes this decision. How can authors anticipate the reading styles of their audience?

supDigital’s Interoperbaility guidelines, which you can read here, ask our authors of digital projects to consider the environments, from browser type and version to device and screen size, through which readers will experience their work.

Many of the projects we’re publishing require a full-size laptop or desktop for optimal viewing, so rather than require our authors to make their projects responsive in the sense of multiple-device readability, we are instead encouraging them to determine whether their work should offer this feature. At the very least, we ask that if they do not want their projects to be viewed on, for example, a phone or tablet, they build in a statement that is triggered when a reader does attempt to browse the project on such a device identifying and explaining this condition.

Screenshot of Enchanting the Desert on an iPhone 6 showing the popup message: "Please explore Enchanting the Desert on a large screen."
Screenshot of Enchanting the Desert on an iPhone 6.

Our first project, Enchanting the Desert, includes such an alert. When a reader navigates to the project on a smartphone, a message appears suggesting “Please explore Enchanting the Desert on a large screen.” This kind of warning is something all authors of complex and highly visual web content should strive to include in their digital projects. Some content is easily enough translated for variable screen sizes by a viewport tag; but other content is just too expansive or too dynamic to fit into the small space of a phone screen. For instance, a project like Enchanting the Desert operates in a multi-paneled display layout in which each of the panels needs to be viewable on the screen at the same time for the argument’s full effect. Another project in our pipeline uses a similar dual-paneled interface that displays connections between text and an interactive map. It would be highly disruptive to disconnect these two panes on the view screen, and there is simply too much content to try and fit them both side by side in such a small space.

Beyond asking authors to plan for readers’ use of varying display types, the Interoperability guidelines encourage authors and developers to pay attention to their own working environments. Chances are, the operating system, device, and browser version an author uses to design her project, will also define the optimal reading environment for her audience. Being aware of an audience’s reading habits tends goes a long way toward any author’s effectiveness.


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