Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Making reading digestible

Still on a scriptural theme... the Reader's Digest Bible cuts out the ‘boring bits’ – the genealogies or details of the Old Testament law – in an effort to make it less of a weariness of the flesh. But quite often when you look at other translations, the boring bits are actually graphically signalled, helping people read strategically (ie, helping them skip those parts).

In this page from Numbers, I've highlighted the section of the Reader's Digest Bible that is the equivalent of a spread from an edition of the New International Version (I designed the one shown some years ago for Hodder & Stoughton). 

The sections shaded pink are the ones left out of the RD version – I hope the image is clear enough to see that the list of tribes is spaced and indented in a way that makes it easy for the reader to simply skip over, noting the authenticity of the historical record (the main function of that passage for the modern reader). The spacing was not introduced by me but by the scholars and theologians responsible for the translation.

On another occasion I tried to take an even more explicit information design approach to Bible design. The Contemporary English Version is translated to be easier for people without a religious background to understand – it avoids theological terms, for example. I tried to make it look less bibly and to use genre cues to help readers approach it in a more strategic way. I could not avoid double columns (for space reasons) but I was able to use single column for poetry, so the line endings would be clearer. I used a three column ‘fine print’ approach for the boring bits, and bold headings.