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« Testing Web Usability and Not Leading Your Questions | Main | Are You Opting-In Above the Fold? »

Keep Your Text Columns Narrow

Today I ran across a few web pages with wide text columns.  The experience reemphasized a simple usability principal anyone can follow. It is in your best interest to keep text columns on your web site narrow.

Wide Text Columns
Imagine reading a newspaper in which the text column ran the entire width of the page. A full width column would make newspaper reading extremely difficult.  Now imagine the same scenario on your computer screen.  Our eyes already get tired much easier from reading off a computer screen.  Wide online columns are difficult to read.

Higher Resolutions and More Information
With screen resolutions getting higher and more monitors becoming wide screen the challenge is going to be presenting information effectively. There are a number of web sites that are designed for screen widths of 1024 pixels and higher.  How much information can you display onscreen at one time before a user gets lost?  In the coming years it will be interesting to see if users can keep up with the trend of higher resolution designs.

A History Lesson

We can look to history to give us a time proven example for column width. Pick up any newspaper and take notice of column width.  Each news story is broken down into narrow columns of text.  Have you ever seen a newspaper where the text column ran the full length of a page?  Narrow columns have been used for hundreds of years.  There is good reason for this. It is far easier for us to read and comprehend text that is in narrow columns.  The same standard can be found in the magazine industry. 

Make it easier for users to read your site, keep your text columns narrow.

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Comments

Kevin

There is a counter to this. do newspapers also have margins as big or bigger than their text?

The problem of narrow column, as with this very site is that literally 40% of the page which could be conveying information in instead two stripes of blue. If you want to keep things narrow fine, but then you need to have the number of columns dynamic

Brett T. Smith

That was a great post! I own a Web development business and many of the sites we build have a fixed narrow design to make it easier for the visitor to read.

My clients always ask me why the design does now allow the page content to fully fill the screen.

People hate to read huge blocks of text... At least I know I do...

:)

Roman

Great Post Eugene!

There is a reason why most proffesional schools spend a lot of time teaching students how to communicate.

People don't really read anymore. We Scan. Take a close look at your own habits.

There is so much information out there that we scan text to see if we want to invest the time to read with more detail. But you first have to convince the person to even bother scanning.

That is why your post is so important. If the text is not simple to focus on, chances are slim that someone will scan it in search of a "hook" or reason to read on.

The "look" is the first step. Second you need a "hook" to draw them in. Third, use simple language, short sentences and get to the point quickly.

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