Wiki states “skimming is a process of speed reading that involves visually searching the sentences of a page for clues to meaning.”
Next time when you read newspaper or scroll your FB, twitter activity stream watch your behavior closely. You hunt for keywords, clues (images/icons/text) which matches your area of interest. After you catch or spot something relevant, you than switch to next follow up content. This followup content could be 2 line sentence or a thumbnail. Also note that, follow up para might be lengthy one but if 1st 2 lines succeeds in generating interest in you than only you proceed. Else you switch to another content or website.
In order to make your screen skimmer friendly you need to play around visual grammar(visual weight and visual hierarchy) of your
Layout – Decode your layout is the starting point of skimming. A good layout should answer following queries of user.
Where can I go – Navigation/sidebars links
Make an easily decodable layout to speed up skimming journey.
Heading/Titles – It is said that heavily inked text always succeeds in gaining skimmers attention. Titles can be inked heavily in two ways. One is making titles bold and font-size large. Another is having a colored background over the content region.
After defining title’s visual style, designer should define clearly visible hierarchy. This can be done by bringing good difference in terms of font sizes, color weight (one lighter than the other), boldness in font weight. Different fonts can also help establish good hierarchy.
Making title bold/catchy is one of part of game. Another part is its context with respect to screens purpose. For eg:- consider home screen. Its main purpose is to introduce benefits of your product/service. Often I see companies talking about feature more and less about benefits. Feature and benefit are 2 different aspect of a product/service. Consider an iPod. Its 64GB storage capacity is a feature and the benefit part is that user can store 10000 mp3 songs.
Therefore, wasting time in prettifying a bad/meaningless context won’t get you desired results. Context with respect to screens purpose is as important as good design.
Images – Imageries leads the way in attracting skimmers attention. Placing your important text on imageries will be plus point of your design. However, advertised thumbnails are exception here. Users prefer to be bannerblinded here.
Icons – As said earlier user searches the sentences of a page for clues to meaning. When your content blocks are accompanied by icons, user succeeds in decoding purpose/meaning of content before reading it completely. Therefore, icons helps in fastening the search process and reduce the cognitive burden on user with respect to skimming.
Color – Colors plays very important role in directing eye motion & adding visual weight to your most important elements or content region. Colors convey emotions too. Right color choice can helps you strengthen context of your clue.
Content Formatting – By content format I mean the way you play around presentation/arrangement of content. Eg bulleted list, iconised list, paragraphs, bold, italic, underline etc. Usage of these formats enables selective word and sentences dominate within long body of text. In skimming exercise, user pays attention to dominating elements first.