How Best to Render Text on the Web: Use Narrow Columns

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The main tweak I made to this theme when I downloaded it was that I made the main column more narrow than the original designer. Let me explain why.

Have you ever noticed that newspapers and magazines use narrow columns?  There’s a reason for that, and those lessons should be applied when displaying text on the web.

Narrow columns are faster to read because the reader’s eyes don’t have to scan as far back-and-forth, and can rely on peripheral vision to take in words at the beginning and end of the lines.

In addition, narrow columns are easier on the eyes, so the reader can read longer before tiring.  Each time the reader’s eyes perform a “carriage return”–moving from the end of a line and move back to the beginning of the next–they get a little rest.

The net result is text that is both faster to read and easier on the eyes.

P.S.  Tangentially related, when I was trying out the iPhone Kindle recently, one of the thing that made it a real delight to read was that the text is very narrow in on the iPhone.  Notwithstanding the brightness of the screen, I was able to read very quickly for a long time without eye fatigue.I really enjoyed that.

Written by scottporad

October 15th, 2009 at 8:11 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

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  1. [...] comments Based on my post about the best way to render text on the web, a number of people have asked if they could have a copy of my theme (or, if I could help them [...]

  2. [...] Note the narrow column of text — just like reading a newspaper — which I think is an important factor in the success of the iPhone for [...]

  3. [...] that narrow columns are easier to read. So it’s surprising that I can find almost nothing (except this) that connects that observation with the unexpected success of the iPhone as a reading [...]

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