As with any field, there are a few basic elements that define the foundation of that field. In design, those basic elements are: alignment, contrast, proximity, and repetition. To create efficient designs, one should understand and master these simple principles. Today, I write about the first of these four elements: alignment.
On our computers, we find four basic alignment options: left align, center align, right align, and justify. Each has it uses, pros, and cons.
This is the best choice for text longer than just a few lines. I use it for books, newsletters, flyers, and even posters and ads. The reason I use left align is because it is easy to read when type set in this way. When reading, our eyes start to the left of the line (for western writing), go to the end of the line, then expect to go back to the same place where we began reading. With left align, the beginning of the line is constant, making reading easy.
This alignment creates ragged right edges, which, depending on the width of the column, can be minimal or more pronounced. The narrower the column, the more right “edgy” the right side can be. Nothing that a bit of work and some hyphenation can’t solve.
This is best used on posters or documents where the text is minimal (one or two lines). As a header, centre alignment, can create a “stately look”. It can also be used nicely for listing names. For a nice example, watch this videocast (How to typeset a list of names, part 2:
Set the list) from Before and After Magazine.
I rarely center my text, but when I do, I try to make it as uniform and easy to read as possible.
If you are going to center align, please do it with the right tool; don’t try to eyeball adjusting your text using spaces!
Use this sparingly. You see right aligned text on business cards, for page numbering in books and magazines, and maybe a few other places, but otherwise this is not as often used as the above two mentioned.
In magazines, where columns are somewhat narrow, some people will justify their text, which can give a sense of balance with both edges being perfectly straight. It can be done nicely, but most often, it will create what are called “rivers”. Rivers are unwanted spaces between words, that appear to form something that looks like rivers running in the text. You can most easily see them when holding the book or magazine almost flat.
The other common issue with justified text is words being separated by large spaces, sometimes to the point of having only two words on a line with more space that actual letters. Of course these problems can be solved by using hyphenation and a lot of finessing work, but I still prefer aligning left.
Which ever alignment you choose, be consistent, make sure the text is easy to read and looks pleasing to the eye.
For some demonstration of the different alignments, visit my site at www.design-maestro.ca