I am happy to announce I have a new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Science that outlines a theory of how people navigate page layouts. A previous version of this paper was posted here several years ago, though this is now the final version. You can download a pdf of the paper here: “Navigating Comics.”
The paper describes an experiment I conducted that examined people’s intuitions for moving through page layouts. I then incorporate the results into a larger theory of the structure of page layout. Here’s the official abstract:
Like the sequence of words in written language, comic book page layouts direct images into a deliberate reading sequence. Conventional wisdom would expect that comic panels follow the order of text: left-to-right and down—a “Z-path”—though several layouts can violate this order, such as Gestalt groupings of panels that deny a Z-path of reading. To examine how layouts pressure readers to choose pathways deviating from the Z-path, we presented participants with comic pages empty of content, and asked them to number the panels in the order they would read them. Participants frequently used strategies departing from both the traditional Z-path and Gestalt groupings. These preferences reveal a system of constraints that organizes panels into hierarchic constituents, guiding readers through comic page layouts.
Cohn, Neil. 2013. Navigating Comics: An empirical and theoretical approach to strategies of reading comic page layouts. Frontiers in Cognitive Science. 4: 1-15.