Our Target Audience: Delicate Fingers, Excellent Eyes

Young readers, in other words.

Part of my unease about attempts to categorize picturebooks, especially according to word-picture interaction, arises from my suspicion that adult, expert readers of prose — academics and critics, for example — are not necessarily going to be the best readers of picturebooks.

– from Reading Contemporary Picturebooks by David Lewis


This week Dan has been coding the main menu pages. When I drew this, however, I was thinking entirely about colour schemes and cohesive, well-balanced layout.

What I spend much less time thinking about is usability.

In order to jump to a certain page, the user must touch somewhere on the chutney. Since the chutney is obscured by the bell, there’s no doubt that a thick-fingered individual would have issues, especially on the smaller screens of the iPod or iPhone. (If this weren’t going to be a universal app I wouldn’t have to worry about this at all.)

Dan wanted me to change it all around. First, he suggested I remove the green ribbon from the bell and simply write onto the bell. I argued that you don’t find writing on bells in real life, and I was also thinking about how removing the green ribbon would upset the balance of red and green. (Funny how I can alternate so easily between thinking in terms of pure fantasy and then coming out with a truism about ‘real life’ dinner bells, as if anything from real-life matters in a children’s book… I can’t explain it, but it does!)

Dan then suggested that I swap the jar of chutney and the lemon squeezer around. I’ve only drawn half of the lemon squeezer, as it happens, and I could quickly see this turning into an entire day’s faffing about… AFTER I’ve crossed off the main menu from our to-do list.

Our compromise: Dan couldn’t find the about button, so I’ve agreed to make that a drop-down ribbon, Artifacts style. (Do you see it? It’s on top of the pepper mill. Yeah, a bit obscure, I agree.) But here’s my story and I’m sticking to it: in order to have good looking art, there have to be some compromises in usability, and I predict that people with small fingers will have no trouble touching the relish jar while simultaneously avoiding the dinner bell ribbon. Our target audience are middle-graders, after all, not 50 year old 6 foot 3 men.

Unfortunately for us, our reviewers are not children. Story app reviewers count among them a few of the fat fingered, no doubt. I wish all reviewers understood that adults are at a slight disadvantage when using universal storybook apps on small screens.

This disadvantage applies not only to thick fingers, but also to strength of eyesight, for reading small font sizes. This story is slightly more wordy than The Artifacts was — I believe a middle grade audience can take it. But this means I have extra challenges fitting the text onto each screen. We can either add complexity to the app by making use of scrolling words or similar, or we can step back and relax, safe in the knowledge that young eyes, corrected by lenses or not, are excellent — more excellent than we can probably remember!

The nice thing about storyapps, too, is that visually impaired children are able to make use of auto narration.