I miss columns

August 2, 2021

I was browsing fonts over at Klim Typeography, and I was struck by something seemingly simple. They use columns. Like, plural columns with an ’s’.

What’s the big deal, you say?

I don’t think I’ve seen more than one of these bad boys since the last time I looked at a physical magazine made of paper. Why is that? It looks so interesting and dynamic compared to what we’ve gotten used to. The single column running all the way down an article. It’s not cool.

Could the single-column layout be a ripple effect of websites being mobile-first? That’s likely part of the story. Another explanation is that it’s the natural evolution of a novel, whose primary design characteristics come from how easy it is to hold and how quickly you can read from it.

The web took away the holding part of books, and we could suddenly go as wide and long as we wanted. However, people can’t jump to a new line easily if the column gets too long. Research settled somewhere around 60-70 character per line, and it seems like we’re pretty much stuck with this result.

Also, with the web came the destruction of pages, or rather, how long a page can be. We got scrolling instead of page turning, which is an easier mechanism. 

The last piece that lead to this single-columned world is the effort level to produce something apart from a single column. I mean, you’re reading a single column right now, and that’s because you CMSs aren’t set up to handle styles, they just make text appear in a big old trusty column (or whatever predefined style has been set).

Put all the pieces together, and you get single column webpages. It’s a bit sad. The web is starting to feel a little so… same-y. Once you click an article and scroll down, there are almost no distinguishing features from one website to the next.

I miss the days when I would pick up magazines and just flip through and see all the different layouts that the designers came up with. It was amazing! The designs made me want to keep reading. But it seems to be a thing of the past.

I realized my website has a lot of this one column thing going on, and I apologize. I think I just followed what everyone else was doing. It’s easy, and it works. But it’s no fun. The things we create should be fun in some way, whether that’s through colour, layout, typography, animation, tone, or maybe all the above. 

My promise to you is that I’m going to try to change this, at least with what I do. Please hit me up if you want to chat about this, if only so I know I’m not the only who cares about columns!

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