Reading Ahead: Research Findings
By Dan Soltzberg at 4:50 pm, Friday August 28 2009
Part 20 of 24 in the series Reading Ahead

Reading ahead logo with space above

(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.

Use the green play arrow at the bottom of the slides to play the show with audio.

(If the slideshow won’t load, check it out here)
To download the audio Right-Click and Save As… (Windows) or Ctrl-Click (Mac)

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20 Responses to “Reading Ahead: Research Findings”

    links from TechnoratiDesign Reading Ahead: Photo Diaries Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis Reading Ahead: Secondary Research (part 2) Reading Ahead: Looking for the story Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting Reading Ahead: Building modelsReading Ahead: Research Findings (updated)And slides which form the final output: Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Research Findings

    Pingback by Conversations with Dina 09.06.09 @ 5:13 pm


    What a great study! And a great presentation!
    Thanks so much for sharing the insights. I personally am a bit fan of research touching the topic of books and reading. It was very interesting.

    It would be too long to put the thoughts this triggered in a comment so I did a separate quick blog post about this.

    There’s a pretty interesting article on the Los Angeles Times that complements nicely the story I feel called The lost art of reading.

    Regarding design opportunities I would think that there are very interesting things to do with digital books regarding notes from the author that could be made interactive and more importantly with readers’ notes that could be stored, categorized and shared with other readers, giving books a life of their own.

    Comment by Nicolas Lassus 08.29.09 @ 2:57 am


    Great stuff. I think the ‘bedtime’ ergonomics is a marvelous idea. I’d add ‘couch’ ergonomics. Today is Saturday, I’m looking forward to stretching out with a book after i get my chores done. I can feel the entire experience in my bones – how I’ll position myself to get the best light and how I’ll adjust the pillow. Ahh, the pleasures of text.

    Comment by avi 08.29.09 @ 6:47 am


    hey dan/steve — any chance you can make the audio downloadable? — i want to listen on my ipod — thanks. d

    Comment by denise lee yohn 08.30.09 @ 9:16 am


    Denise – I made a change to enable that, hopefully it works. let me know?

    Comment by Steve Portigal 08.30.09 @ 8:53 pm


    ha ha… now that I check again I see that you actually posted that article I linked already. Sorry for that. :o) My bad.

    Comment by Nicolas Lassus 08.31.09 @ 8:34 pm


    Great study, love the drawings and visual elements.

    Comment by Ann Pitts 09.01.09 @ 1:53 pm


    Thanks, Ann. Figuring out how to tell the story visually is always an interesting challenge. Glad you liked our approach.

    Comment by Dan Soltzberg 09.01.09 @ 4:06 pm


    amazing! you have provided a provocative lens through which to view our current behaviors and to imagine the future — thank you!

    one thought/question — as a heavy reader of newspapers/magazines as well as digital content (in addition to books), i’m curious as to their exclusion from this research — part of the reading evolution is the content itself, yes? plus with the growth of ebooks, it seems the line between an in-depth article and an ebook is starting to blur — would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Comment by Denise Lee Yohn 09.11.09 @ 8:43 am


    Denise, we definitely thought about other types of reading when we were putting the project together, and we did talk about blog reading, newspapers, etc. with some of the respondents. We decided to focus on book reading: 1.for recruiting, as a way of gauging the type of avid readers we wanted to interview; 2.to keep the study focused and within scope; 3. to concentrate on the archetypal tool of reading–the book–and the relationship of digital devices to all the related behaviors, traditions, etc.

    Comment by Dan Soltzberg 09.11.09 @ 10:04 am


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    All This ChittahChattah | Reading Ahead: Research Findings

    Comment by @so_white 11.06.09 @ 11:33 am


    This presentation is really well done. The tone and insights are great. I honestly can’t believe I listened to the entire thing. ;)

    One thing I wonder about are the insights about books as representing identity, expressing who we are or wish to become. Did you find any ways in which books are different than other objects that people possess, assuming that all objects can be viewed as expressing identity or desired identity?

    Comment by Jamin Hegeman 12.03.09 @ 2:22 pm


      Thanks so much, Jamin! I am pleased and impressed that you listened to the whole thing; because of course you could have just had us come in and present it in person…you still can!

      You make an excellent point and one that has come up in some presentations; of course books are not unique in that they are used to evolve and communicate identity. Clothes, cars, art, and much of what is consumed and displayed would be in the same vein. As you can imagine, we didn’t go into the work assuming that there was an identity issue, so we didn’t have the opportunity to explore parallel displays; it was an outcome of the research but not an input. Our exploration was really broad but was still focused on reading and books, so I’m not sure we had the opportunity to really get into points of comparison. Some attributes of books/identity that are not fully unique but at least characterize it would be around the extended time that a book can have meaning – whether books from childhood, or books that someone has heard about but hasn’t read – years before or after an actual reading (or multiple readings), and that books can be displayed or concealed in the home or out-of-home in various ways as people both deal with an inner identity question versus an external identity display. There’s also a relationship issue as books are given (or tolerated) between friends or parents-children, where that identity stretches between a number of people. I could see music having similar attributes but maybe tapping into more of a pure emotional vein than books. What do you think?

      Comment by Steve Portigal 12.04.09 @ 10:50 am


    […] of the book and digital reading, blogged at length about our process, posted an in-depth narrated presentation of findings and opportunities, tracked the cultural progression of the digital books issue, presented at the UC Berkeley Digital […]

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