Saturday, March 10, 2018

Yo Wikipedia, fix your website!

As a graphic designer, I've been wondering for quite a while about the excessive line length and inadequate margin width of the Wikipedia article template. As desktop monitors have increased in physical size, the line length of the Wikipedia article has increased with it, and I'm surprised that this issue hasn't been addressed long before this.

Just as an example, my desktop monitor display screen is 23 1/2" wide and the resolution is set to the recommended 1600x900 pixels. When I maximize the Google Chrome window on my screen, the line length of, for example, the article on Pyeongchang County is 19 7/8", measured on the first text line of the subsection Train in the section Transportation. (With no photos or indentation at that location on the page, at least as my monitor displays it, the line can extend all the way to the left and right margins.) At 19 7/8", the line can't be read without my turning my head. Because I usually find that a maximized browser window produces web pages that are too big, I generally keep the browser window at about 18" wide. Even so, that results in a length of 14 3/4" for the same line in the article. Although I can read the entire line without having to turn my head, that line length is simply too long. I don't know that many book publishers would design a book with an ungainly 14 3/4" line length, with only 3/8" margins, and many aspects of print design, including this, apply equally to web-page design.

I know that adjusting the width of my browser window while reading an article on Wikipedia is an easy solution to the line-length problem, but that solution has to be considered a work-around. The line length ballooning out to 19 7/8" in a maximized browser window, or even more on a larger monitor than my average-size monitor, recalls old-fashioned web pages from the 1990s, with text stretching the full width of the display screen in a bright color on a busy background with several text elements on the page blinking. Web-page design has become much more sophisticated since then, and Wikipedia's page designs are sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing. Except the line length. That remains a relic from the Old Days.

One solution would be to set a margin in the page template to a percentage of the width of the desktop browser window. If the margins were set to 10% of the browser window width, margins would be 1.8" with my browser window set to 18" wide, producing a line length of 11.125", still a bit wide but better than 14.75". Another solution would be an adjustable margin width for article text. The user would click-drag a margin to where he prefers it and the opposite margin would adjust symmetrically by the same amount. I'm sure Wikipedia's developers could come up with several more solutions. However, if adjustment to the line length is already a feature of Wikipedia, I haven't run into it yet. If it's there, it should be easier to find for the typical reader as, say, an option in the side bar or as a tooltip that appears when the pointer is over a margin.

Please address this issue. Wikipedia is simply too sophisticated a website to require a reader to turn his head to read an entire line of text if his browser window is maximized. Readability is fundamental to a site like Wikipedia, and an excessive line length has a negative effect on readability.

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