No, no, no, I am not talking about political ideology. I am talking about received wisdom among designers about where the eye naturally goes when it first beholds a newspaper or web page.

I have long been told that it goes to the right side, and American newspapers generally have followed the practice of putting their top stories on that side of the front page. Inside the paper, advertising buyers coveted the right-hand pages — especially Page 3 — leaving the news department to fill up the left-hand pages. But as I noted in an earlier post, the practice is different in the United Kingdom and other parts of the British Commonwealth. There it is common for the top story to run down the left side of the front page. Who is right? How solid is their evidence?

My mystification was deepened when our instructor referred us to some exemplary websites, listed below:

http://www.markboulton.co.uk/index.php
http://www.stuffandnonsense.co.uk/
http://www.playgroundblues.com/
http://blog.criticalwebdesign.co.uk/
http://www.nclud.com/work/
http://www2.jeffcroft.com/
http://www.subtraction.com/
http://alistapart.com
http://unspace.ca/
http://www.designobserver.com/
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/05/21/60-elegant-and-visually-appealling-designs/

As you can see, some of them — not all from the UK — put the most important material on the left-hand side of the page. Why? Others follow the right-hand rule. Why?

One website on the list follows no discernible rule. Across the top are a couple of strips of artsy, unintelligible stuff. Under them is text divided into three columns of equal width. The only hint the user gets about where he or she is supposed to start is that the size of the text gradually diminishes from left to right. Duh.

Copyright 2009, J.V. Reistrup

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