4

From Why You Should Never Center Align Paragraph Text:

Left aligned text is easier to read than centered text for paragraphs. This is because when you center your text, the starting place of each line changes. This forces your users to work harder to find where each line begins to continue reading. Without a straight left edge, there is no consistent place where users can move their eyes to when they complete each line.

I wonder if there is any case where there exist compelling reasons to use center aligned text for paragraphs? That is, the advantages of X can overcome the disadvantage of having no consistent place for readers to move their eyes. What is X?

For example, should the text below be center aligned? The image on the left seems to reinforce any asymmetry of the right area. So the center aligned text will be more aesthetic than the left aligned text?

enter image description here

enter image description here

Related: How does unobviously uneven spaces between words in justified text affect reading?

0
9

In my opinion...

Never

Center aligning is fine for headlines, sub-headlines, captions, figures, etc. However, for paragraphs there's never a reason for line-for-line centering.

Line-for-line centering creates a "wobble" - a "hula dance" of a shape - that is unstable and unbalanced.

For me, full justification isn't much better but it is better than line-for-line centering. Full justification at least prevents an unstable and unbalanced impression.

Best case is left-justified paragraphs, no matter what the paragraph text contains.

The only exception for line-for-line centering, beyond headlines, I can fathom is callouts. In some cases, centering callouts can aide a design rather than detract from it. Primarily because it's an offset and meant to be a visual disruptor of a sort.

Example...

enter image description here

4
  • so do you mean that the hardship in readability of center aligned paragraph still overwhelms the combination of (1) the feeling of formality/poeticness/nostalgia of center alignment, and (2) the asymmetry between aligned left margin and ragged right margin, which is emphasized by the image on the left? – Ooker Jun 21 at 7:22
  • 1
    Center aligned paragraphs are bad not necessarily due to any readability issues.. it's more about balance. You completely disregard any sense of balance by center aligning paragraphs. Quite honestly, other than for headlines or subheaders... center aligning paragraph is more the mark of inexperience than anything else. Even well crafted poetic stanzas are left or right aligned. I'd encourage you to pay attention to everything you read and note ho often you see anything center aligned. – Scott Jun 21 at 7:34
  • In my understanding, center alignment is to create symmetry. And symmetry creates balance. Why does center alignment not create balance anymore when it's about paragraphs? And if center aligned paragraphs disregard any sense of balance, then would any other elements in the graphic compensate for that? Again I know that this sounds like I obsess center aligned text, but I just want to push the case to the extreme to see how the rules work – Ooker Jun 22 at 8:48
  • Where is there any symmetry in a center aligned paragraph? Sure, I guess, if you look at each line individually but certainly not when looking at the paragraph as a whole. If you look at your center aligned example, it's basically a downward arrow in shape. There's no sense of rhythm to the text as a whole. That lack of rhythm is conveyed while reading as well. It's not smooth, intuitive, and expected.. i.e. unbalanced. – Scott Jun 22 at 10:14
5

Wedding invitations. Some greeting cards. Very formal, very brief pieces of text. Some poster and advertising headlines.

Centered or "center justified" or "ragged-center" text is very hard to read. It immediately gives a feeling of formality or poetic embellishment.

That said, many large format pieces, signs and ads use a few words centered on an image or page. But that is not the same as a large block of text being set centered.

2
  • "It immediately gives a feeling of formality or poetic embellishment." This is what I'm looking for. So do you feel that the example images want to convey that feeling? Do you think the hardship in readability of center aligned paragraph overwhelms the combination of the feeling of formality and the ragged right margin, which is emphasized by the image on the left? – Ooker Jun 19 at 7:52
  • Your example does look OK centered, because the line lengths are not that different. I think centered would be OK and give the formal feeling you are looking for in this case. – user8356 Jun 19 at 15:00
1

Unlike many of the folks in here, I'm not a professional graphic designer, so my opinion is my own & may not be shared by all.

imo, centre-justified always looks like a school disco poster or a church jumble sale advert… i.e. amateur.
For almost any newspaper column-style text, I would always go for fully-justified & hyphenated. The variable gaps, to me, are less distracting than uneven edges. On such short lines, left justified looks ragged & I always consider right-justified to have a special place, but this is not it.

For balance, here's the same thing justified four ways - full, centre, left, right.

enter image description hereenter image description here
enter image description hereenter image description here

Looking at them all here after I've finished, I'd have gone with a bit more margin if I'd thought it through properly.

1

I'm no professional designer, but I'd use these criteria pro centering text lines:

  • If the lines are rather short and there are only a few of them, like in poetry using 4-line verses.
  • If you want the reader to spend time on the lines (call it "enjoy" them)

So maybe: If you "put a lot" into "a few" lines, centering may give the lines the attention they deserve.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.