July 1997

Root Page of Article: The Web and the Paradigm of the Front Page, by Flora J. Garcia

The Front Page

The home page serves as a visual foyer for a site, much as a newspaper's front page is an entry point to a particular day's edition and to the specific publication's style and features. Mastheads, photographs of the town's skyline--such as the Knoxville News-Sentinel Online's skyline--or quips--at one time The Nando Times claimed "All the news that's bits we print"--are some of the parallels to the printed newspaper flag.

From the positioning of stories in a particular hierarchy to promotions suggesting stories deeper in the paper, the front page gives a fast list of what those producing a paper deem the important contents. Traditional newspaper designers are taught to consider the path they wish a reader to follow through not just the front page, but the entire newspaper.

Besides the path, there are other visual aspects to a newspaper, such as color. In 1985, Mario Garcia of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., devised a study about the use of color in American newspapers. In later research published in 1990 by Garcia and Pegie Stark, EYE-TRAC equipment was used to determine the importance of color on newspaper readership and attention. The EYE-TRAC equipment, using video cameras attached to a headband, provided a tape of where the readers' eyes moved through the prototype newspapers from three markets.

When the videos were analyzed, the idea that people automatically looked at the "lead story" high on the right side of a page was debunked, as there was no specific point on the page where the eye was attracted. Instead, the reader stopped on the strongest visual, be it a photograph, graphic, or headline. The results said readers did not take a preconceived or regular path through the page, but rather were lead by the page's design.

The principle of hierarchy appeared to be successful among the study participants, and was said to "coach or counsel readers gently but effectively, establishing a harmony of movement that results in comprehension." Hierarchy can be established by using different sized visual elements and exploiting contrast, both online and in the traditional format. --

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