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Is there a usability reason for centring a website's content area on a page?

I'm facing a difficult problem that I can't seem to solve rationally.

I find that it that websites that have their content centered are more pleasing to use than those that have the content aligned to the left. This is even more noticeable when there is less content on the webpages.

My guess is that it's easier to read what's directly in front of your eyes than to move them to the left. But this is only a guess without any real scientific basis.

Is there any consensus, or has there been any research done on whether it's better to align content to the left or center it on websites?

UPD: Relevant IxDA discussion: http://www.ixda.org/node/23895

  • See ui.stackexchange.com/questions/3177/… – ChrisF Sep 30 '12 at 19:50
  • @ChrisF - That particular question seems to be about center-aligned text whereas this seems to be about centered layouts. – Virtuosi Media Sep 30 '12 at 20:04
  • @VirtuosiMedia - Hmm - well they're certainly related. – ChrisF Sep 30 '12 at 20:12
  • Do you have a particular type of website that you are looking for information on? Currently it's quite a broad question because an eCommerce site is very different to a blog or a forum so the answers are all going to vary depending on what type of site you're targeting. – JonW Oct 1 '12 at 8:56
  • @ChrisF - regarding text and overall design. They have may have similarities, but the biggest issue with having centered text is that it becomes harder to read (thus, the very aesthetic design of it is not the core issue) – Henrik Ekblom Oct 1 '12 at 11:45

I'm not sure that you'll find a concrete answer here. I expect you're going to get a lot of opinions, which is cool as long as they're stated as opinions. I too would love to see some papers / research on this subject.

I'm assuming you're talking about fixed-width webpages, not a web-app type of situation. Web-apps like Gmail are almost always full screen and dynamically expand. This is just to give the user more room, and to make it feel more like a desktop app. However, apps like Mint.com use a fixed layout, because their users don't need the room. But your question isn't about fixed vs fluid, it's about center vs left -- I've never seen a left aligned web app.

I almost always suggest centering static web pages if possible, mostly just because it looks nicer and it's what people expect from a modern website.

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  • A you said "just because it looks nicer and it's what people expect from a modern website", completely agreed with you. – manix Sep 30 '12 at 22:12

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