I’ve been checking out thebolditalic.com a lot lately for design and typography inspiration. Browsing through their articles, I appreciate that they often alternate their text layouts into 1, 2 or 3 columns. Column layouts have been in the web for a very long time (tables anyone?), but using columns for text alone hasn’t been popular in the mainstream until recently.

Now I’m not saying text columns are appropriate for every site or any section with more than a few sentences; but under the right conditions they can be aesthetically pleasing, easier to read, and with more recent CSS developments, relatively easy to code for.

From the Designer’s Point of View

The dreaded generic “content” page is usually no fun to design for. Typically sites just strip down the homepage and throw in a large title with paragraph after paragraph of text. Multi-column layouts can be a simple way to make copy more interesting to look at, as well as help break up the content and make it easier to digest.

From the Developer’s Point of View

Coding an extra column in html/css really isn’t a big deal, but no one wants to add more code if it’s unnecessary. Multiple columns also mean someone needs to make sure the content is flowing into columns correctly, especially if it’s dynamically loaded.

So when it comes down to it, multi-column layouts are more work, but not so much that they should be avoided. There are even easier ways to code columns with CSS3, now with a property for multi-column modules! Here’s a relevant article from A List Apart on that topic.

From the User’s Point of View

Multi-column layouts are definitely more interesting to look at. Usability studies also show that multi-column text layouts are easier to read and readers typically have an increased comprehension of the content.

For more information on the actual study of multi-column text layout readability, you can check out the following articles:
Text Columns: How Long is Too Long?
Is Multiple-Column Online Text Better? It Depends!