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Designing for mobile devices - why multiple columns is a bad idea

If you look at a page in a newspaper or a magazine, you will see the text arranged in columns. This is done because it would be nearly impossible to read a line of type all the way across a newspaper, or even the width of a magazine. Books, however, are not set in columns, because they are manufactured at a size that is already comfortable for reading. The trend in web page design is away from newspaper, or magazine, layout with multiple columns, and to more like book layout with a single column.

When the web first starting becoming popular, in the late nineties, web pages were single columns that ran from one edge of the screen to the other. Computer screens were a lot smaller then, and this was a comfortable size to read. As computer screens got wider, web designers turned to the newspaper and magazine layout concept of multiple columns. For a while, this was the best way to go, but it isn't any more. So, if you're a designer who wants to design in multiple columns, you need to design magazine or newspaper pages, the web is going back to single column design.

The reason for this is mobile devices - cell phones and tablets. If your website looks like the picture above when someone visits it on their phone or tablet, you will be in trouble in the future. Yes, with a little effort the viewer can do things like turning their device sideways, or scrolling around and pinching in and out. But people all already tiring of doing this and would prefer that your design not make them work so hard. And good Graphic Design seeks to eliminate annoyances, and make the experience of visiting the page an enjoyable one.

So this is what you have to do -

• Design vertically, not horizontally. That is, up-and-down, not sideways. Think of the shape of a book, or the shape of a Smart Phone, not the shape of a newspaper.

• Design in a single column. Multiple column designs just won't work anymore. There really is no need for sidebars. If the information isn't important enough to go onto the main content area of the page, either get rid of it, or make another page of it.

• Simplify. Yes, I know it's not easy. That's why Graphic Design is an art.