Let’s talk about justification

The dictionary defines…no I’m just kidding!  Imagine I started a post in such a shit way?  It’s actually much better than that.  (Although later on I do actually get into definitions and even spelling!)  Today I’m talking about text justification.  It’s like sushi/raisins in cookies/Trump.  You either love it or hate it.  You feel strongly for or against it as a design choice, but you definitely aren’t ambivalent.  Unless you’re me.  I love sushi.  Raisins in cookies are allowed if they’re oatmeal.  And I hate Trump.  But whether a website has text justified or left-aligned I don’t really care either way.

That’s right I don’t have a preference either way!  In fact, you can even trawl through all my blog posts to see that sometimes I use it and sometimes I don’t. *GASP*  Especially on mobile.

The choice to justify text or left-align is most relevant for mobile site design, because copy appears longer as the width of the screen is much narrower.  So a chunk of sentences that looked great as two lines on a desktop site left-aligned now runs onto six lines on mobile and the choice to justify then becomes a little more tempting.

The ultimate quest for a neat margin.

When the design has a block of text in a left column like this (on desktop) then I think it can look better to have the text justified so you can see a nice little block with neat margins.  Especially pleasing when sitting next to a block of red colour as this one is now (on desktop – soz mobile readers). So satisfying. Like high-pressure hose cleaning videos. But when the text block is in the right column like the one above (it’s cool I’ll wait while you scroll up and take a look) then left-aligned is chilled and doesn’t cause too much stress for brains that like things tidy.

I watched like 15 minutes of these to find the right one to embed.  I feel so calm now.

But consistency is key right?

When you design sites you usually stick with either justification or left-align throughout the whole site hey?  Or do you?

Maybe each page, or even each section, looks better with one or the other?  Or does that make your brain break?  As you’ve scrolled through this post did you immediately notice that I have both left-aligned and justified text blocks?  Did it make you see poop emojis?  I’m sorry if it did.  But consider this immersion therapy.  Like slowly being exposed to horrifying giant spider crabs that are coming for your soul to desensitise you to your irrational fear.  But that giant spider crab fear is legit.  Look at these fuckers!

Terrifying creatures - click at your peril.

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Almost as scary as a new client enquiry where “they want absolutely everything, but need a big discount, and also they don’t know what they want but will know it when they see it and insist that EVERYONE is their target market and also three days before wrapping up the project they pivot to actually sell handmade scented candles instead of online coaching to #bossmom entrepreneurs focusing on organisation and microgreen gardening so they need to go in a new direction with their branding, but like just a few changes so it’ll be really quick for you and they’re definitely not going to pay more without a huge fight.”  How’d you like that crazy run-on sentence?  If it drove you insane then please let me know.

Ok where the fuck was I?  Oh yes – text justification, left-align and consistency.

Justifying does give you that neat margin, but is the edge the most important aspect to a “good” design?

Take this text chunk for example, justifying it created some  inconsistent spacing. 

And because each paragraph was short, was the weird word and letter spacing worth the “neat edge” effect?  Because the neat edge is most obvious when the paragraphs are longer like this one.  So lots of words line up nicely on either side neatly stacked one under the other at the margins.

Tough call!

How    d oes  this  ma ke   you feel   as   a     spacing option?

Gross right?

Luckily, justification settings on most websites are more sophisticated now and the spaces are so nice and even and not super offensive like that sentence above.

But there’s more to consider in the great text justification debate that has been raging for generations.  If you’re keen for some procrastination then read all about typographic alignment on Wikipedia.  It’s hella interesting.

Basically because this is in English, which is read left to right then text is most commonly aligned flush left (left aligned).  It’s what we’re used to reading, how we learn to write and arguably the easiest way for our brains to digest the words we’re reading.  Does this not make the most sense then because ease of reading should be our primary concern should it not?  On blog posts and many other places on a website the content is queen and so the legibility and digestibilty of that content is the most important thing.

But is content only the copy? Or are the images also content?

The design of a page also influences how we feel and our initial reactions.  If it looks shit then you’re not even going to read it are you?  I would say that in my blog posts the absolutely most important thing is the writing, but the overall visual effect is important in a secondary way.

Interestingly, left-aligned is also know as “ragged right” – which definitely has a negative connotation.  Can you think of anything that’s described as ragged, but is also nice?  I can’t.  Maybe like a ragged hem on a soft tulle woodland fairy dress?  No, I would say that’s more uneven or frayed.  Not ragged.  Ragged definitely makes me think of ragged tooth sharks.  Not something that makes me feel good and not something I want to spend too much time looking at.

So by the very words used to describe “ragged right” text, it seems that it doesn’t look to appealing.  And the word “justified” feels good.  Like I’m totally justified in buying that adorable pink headset with light up ears because it will make recording tutorial videos so much better!  But I cannot justify spending that much money on something I do not need when I have fairly urgent need for a new fridge.  Just like I can’t justify using text justification to make things looks pretty when it hurts user experience.

But what about centred text?

Centred text is arguably the compromise to be reached in the great debate of left-align versus fully justified text.  The middle ground if you will.  (See what I did there?)

But centre-aligned text is not always easy to read either.  And visually it can cause some design problems.  Ugh!  Just like how I spent a very long time trying to decided how to spell centred (centered) text, I will continue to spend a lot of time trying to decide what the best choice is for text alignment.

There are arguments to be made for all choices and I honestly cannot say which I prefer overall.  Each choice has a use-case, adds something and detracts from something.

Pros and cons all around!

When there doesn’t seem to be a clear winnder then it’s probably best to make the choice of how to align the blocks of text on a per case basis.  Sometimes left-aligned is better and sometimes justified.  Sometimes centered works really well.  I ten to err on the side of left-aligned, because it’s what I’m most used to and I find reading flows the easiest then.  Although now that I think about it Google Pay Books has the text justified and it works really well. 

Ok, I err on the side of left-aligned on desktop and justified on mobile for larger chunks of texts.  Yes, that’s my final answer.

What do you think?

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