Unjustified Design

Recently, I’ve stopped using justified text nearly as much as I used to. I used to have a compulsion to be sure I perfectly filled each line of text—I still do try my hardest to be sure I don’t leave whopping gaps at the end of lines, whether I’m writing digitally or on paper. But I’ve come to realize that fully-justified text isn’t necessarily the best way to do things.

At first, I’ll admit, I was quite skeptical when my typography instructor impressed this fact upon me. But so many people agree (and have evidence) that I’ve changed my way of thinking somewhat. Ken Adams is one blogger who also advocates for the use of a rag on the right side. Another is David Kadavy. Both make arguments against the use of fully-justified text columns—from rivers in the text, to lines that it’s easier to become lost in, to bad text-block texture.

And I agree with them—for the most part, at least. It’s much more pleasing to the eye not to have massive holes between your words, regardless of how much messier the right edge might look. And it is easier to find and keep one’s place while reading if the margin is rougher on one side, I’ve found.

But at the same time, there is still something I find very pleasing about a perfectly aligned set of margins. I especially love it when the final line of a chunk of text either comes flush with the end of the line or makes a perfect mirror of the initial paragraph indent. It’s so even and symmetrical that way—and if I can do it that way without gappy rivers and gross letter-spacing, I’ll often prefer to. At least, as long as it’s a personal project, anyway.

And anyway, when writing a story (something I dabble in quite frequently), there’s something that’s still oh-so-very bookish about fully-justified text. Somehow the feel of it helps to draw me deeper into the story—like the perfect margins and the slightly different spacing between words frame the world and give the prose its own audible texture inside my head, much the same way placing an em-dash directly before a line break creates a more dramatic pause that’s longer-lasting and easier to savor.

But then again, perhaps that’s just me. I always have been a bit on the strange side of things.


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