Reading on digital devices is becoming increasingly common. Large markets have developed for both physical reading devices and web-based reading platforms. Each device and platform offers distinct features and supposed advantages, but the experience of reading a printed book is still considered superior by some reviewers. This study sought to identify the strengths and weaknesses of digital reading and to determine whether, or how, design factors influence the reader's experience. An initial evaluation of digital reading devices identified the most common form factors and established parameters to be evaluated by testing subjects in subsequent surveys. Two surveys were conducted, which involved subjects reading texts on various platforms. The subjects were students, faculty or staff of the Rochester Institute of Technology. The first survey, conducted in the RIT Cary Collection, concentrated on physical devices. The devices selected were an Apple iPad, laptop computer, Apple iPod Touch and Amazon Kindle, with a paper booklet representing traditional reading media. Nineteen subjects read a short story on each device and evaluated their experience on a paper questionnaire. Subjects were asked to identify strengths, weaknesses and difficulties encountered with the interfaces. While reading, subjects were timed and observed to measure average reading speed and interaction with the devices. Reading in a web browser on a laptop was consistently disliked by subjects. This reading platform was considered to have the greatest room for improvement and became the focus of the second survey. The second survey was conducted online and involved subjects reading texts in a web browser. The initial sample for this survey was 52 subjects, though only 12 of those subjects (23%) completed the entire survey. The first portion of this survey involved subjects reading short texts for comprehension at three sizes and evaluating them for reading speed and comfort. The second portion involved subjects reading on three different web-based reading platforms and evaluating their experience with each. Google Books, Treesaver and Open Library reading platforms were selected for the survey because they offered a range of features. Google Books represents a utilitarian design attitude, Treesaver presents content in an editorial design format, and Open Library displays scanned pages of public domain books. In the second survey, text sizes perceived by subjects as read fastest were actually read slowest on average, indicating that readers' perceptions of reading speed do not necessarily correlate with performance. The Open Library reading platform displays scanned pages of books printed before digital reading was conceived and which therefore were not designed for reading on platforms with low resolutions, variable screen sizes, and non-paper substrates. This platform was disliked by a majority of subjects and presented the most interface difficulties. This suggests that large-scale book scanning projects might yield less desirable reading experiences for users. The subjects' reading performance across both surveys was consistent. The range of average reading speeds on devices from Survey 1 closely matched the range of average speeds for the various text sizes in Survey 2. This indicates that varying the size of text affects performance to approximately the same degree as changing the reading devices. The outcome of this study indicates that design factors have a strong effect on the reading experience. Subjects from both surveys formed strong opinions about the interfaces, type sizes and styles and indicated that these influenced their decisions to read books on digital devices.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Electronic book readers--Public opinion; Electronic books--Public opinion; Books and reading--Public opinion

Publication Date


Document Type


Department, Program, or Center

School of Print Media (CIAS)


Pankow, David


Note: imported from RIT’s Digital Media Library running on DSpace to RIT Scholar Works. Physical copy available through RIT's The Wallace Library at: Z1033.E43 G37 2011


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