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The Centered Text Takeover

Jan Tschichold might be turning in his grave, as centered text is making a Victorian-sized comeback in modern Web design.

Okay, perhaps that is a bit harsh. After all, Tschichold, the father of The New Typography, did indeed change is tune later in life, notably apparent in the creation of his serif face Sabon and his template for Penguin Books covers.

As Tschichold slowly pulled away from the limits of left-aligned modular-grid bound text, so, too, is the Web unveiling a new design trend based on the need for fluid, responsive design, an aging population, and font limitations.

Personally, as a print designer heavily trained in the old-school ways of the early 21st century, I find the abundance of centered text absolutely fascinating. A new generation of design that has never been forced to consider the location of the spine or expertly controlled margins has chosen absolute symmetry. Of course, just because it’s now appropriate to center your h1 and h2 tags doesn’t mean typography is any easier in the interactive realm; quite the opposite. Now, the designer must seek new ways to achieve beauty and sophistication without the aid of a rigid grid and absolutely defined white space. The typography must be robust enough that it can stand up to being pulled and pushed by this browser window size or that. Balance must be achieved in a variety of scenarios, and must remain clean despite the interruption of drop-down windows, interactive pop-ups and that user with the 5K retina display (I stand guilty). And somehow, that design still needs to follow user interface design principles, and convey information in a clear and concise way.

So, if centered text is the solution to these issues, I applaud it. I will no longer chide my students for resorting to its siren’s call. I will resist paraphrasing my professors as they declared “centered text is for tombstones!” I will watch, observe, and maybe even center a heading or two myself.

Repurposed from an article I originally published in 2015.

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