So I sat down this weekend to work on a layout for a new product and discovered I was ambivalent about the number of columns I used in a particular page layout. That made me wonder… What is better? Single or multi-column layouts? I’ve seen both all over the place in gaming PDFs and there doesn’t seem to be much of a rhyme or reason to it.
One big reason to go with a single-column approach is that it’s simpler to read on a hand-held device such as a Kindle or iPad. It seems easier to simply scroll up/down rather than side to side or trying to squeeze a whole page onto a small device and still be able to read the text.
In a printed form, I certainly appreciate the visual variety of multiple columns. But reading electronically seems to kill that desire for a more varied approach to layouts. Does it boil down to a question of purpose?
To date, except for the Core Rules book, all Moebius Adventures products have been intended to be read online via PDF. That said, I have brought up questions of layout before with the One Spot products due to their multi-column approach and the use of text in the margins which seemed in hindsight more like a technique appropriate to the printed page than the electronic one. So I’m attempting to address this question earlier in the process for new products this year.
It’s been intriguing looking at some products in the marketplace now however… Kobold Press seems to use a mix of one- and two-columns. Will Hindmarch’s Becoming uses a single-column layout with some inset box text. DwD Studios uses a single-column approach most of the time. Chaosium likes two columns. Much of the classic D&D library is two column. Numenera from Monte Cook Games is two column. Shadows of Esteren seems to use a mix of one- and two-column layouts. Dungeon World is a single-column layout… How do THEY justify one layout over another? Is it personal preference? Market research?
Does there need to be a dividing line between products based on the context of the reading experience? Should there in fact be two different versions of each product – a print-friendly multi-column approach and an online-friendly single-column approach?
These are VERY early drafts, but I’m curious which one you like better?
Looking at these two, I know which one *I* prefer when reading online. What do you think?
I will weigh your opinions when deciding how to move forward with this decision. If you have specific research or articles you can point me to regarding the readability of online and print materials, I’d love to see links in the comments as well.
The links I’ve found so far include:
- Practical Tips for Utilizing Columns of Text in Your Layouts by Carrie Cousins at Design Shack
- Is Multiple-Column Online Text Better? It Depends! by J. Ryan Baker from the Software Usability Research Laboratory (SURL) at Wichita State University
- Google+ Post from Joseph Teller
- Multi-column Articles by Adam Lynch at the User Experience Stack Exchange site
- Increase User Comprehension & Readability With Multi-Column Text Layouts by Rick Lee at Betterment