First off, the types of navigation I talk about here are absolutely intended to be part of a broader network of how people move through layouts. Certainly, panel locations aren’t the only influence on people’s movement through layouts. Among the other things potentially are color, content, etc.
What I was trying to get at is that people do have idealized preferences for reading directions given various conditions and that those preferences emerge *even in the absence of content* in non-left-to-right ways. My suspicion is that people use these sorts of preferences from panels as their first influence for navigational choice, which can then be further influenced by content and maybe color. However, that’s something that would need to be empirically tested.
Another reason for creating this study that I didn’t mention in my last post was that the year before I did the study, John Barber came out with his own paper about layout (unfortunately now taken offline). While he had some great ideas and observations, I disagreed with his basic claim that layout and meaning were expressly tied. Layout and content most definitely can be connected in important ways, but I think that this experiment nicely shows that they are governed by separate (yet interfacing) systems.
Finally, several people have been curious about instances where panels do not have borders at all. I do mention borderless panels, but only in a footnote, where I basically say “more testing needed”! My guess is that certain permutations follow the same principles that I outline in the paper, but others lead to greater violations because of the ambiguities they create (ahem, testing needed).
As with many of my papers, this should just serve to lay the groundwork for future work (by me or others). I’m still convinced that the really cool stuff will come far down the road!