For those who lack the time to delve into my, probably overly long text, the short answer is “you should never justify”. For those interested in finding out “why” or have a few minutes to spare while their tea is brewing, read on.
Let’s start with where the urge to justify comes from. Simply put, it is what we are used to. This is especially applicable to older generations that associate text with books, newspapers or other printed materials. Justified text tend to look tidy. I can agree with this, an unjustified text in a newspaper column would look unnatural. Our eyes would see it as an error that occurred during the creation process.
The problem is that we cannot take standards from print and apply them to websites. Holding a book in our hands we cannot pinch zoom the content. We can tear the thing apart, but it won’t change the fact that the font size will remain the same. The situation is completely different when it comes to websites, especially since they became responsive. We can browse the same site on a desktop, laptop or a smart phone. Each of these devices can have differing screen sizes and resolutions. Modern sites need to adapt to these varying parameters, squeezing and stretching the text or more precisely the text area accordingly.
Text on websites
On a monitor with a resolution of 1920x1080 the text will be wide and short while on the screen of a mobile device it will be narrow, but a lot taller. To the majority of users this is understandable. How is this a problem when it comes to justifying the content? It’s simple, when scaling the site (changing its size) the web browser does not know how it should fill the dynamically changing space. We can tell a column how wide it should be, but we cannot do the same for individual words. As a result the gaps between words will differ greatly. It will look ugly, untidy.
That is only a part of the problem. We also have to consider the UI/UX factor. Justified text on the internet is harder to read. Users prefer to read content from left to right and are used to uniform gaps between words. All this means that justified text negatively impacts conversion rates. The majority of websites focus on making sure that the information contained within reaches the user. If the text is hard or tiring to read, it’s only natural that conversion rates will suffer. We are of course talking about longer content. Short text blocks consisting of one or two sentences should be centered.
To justify or not to justify?
It is hard to convince people to change their deeply ingrained habits and accept new conventions. That being said I hope that this topic proved interesting and maybe provoked some to view it in a new light. In JCD we will always keep the aforementioned in mind. At least until the current browser technology evolves.