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Wh-y Do Designers Hate Hy-phens-?

In justified text, hyphenation is necessary to avoid distracting or unsightly spacing between letters or words. However, for a text block applying a ragged right margin, many designers would rather die a slow, painful death than use hyphenation (I’m not kidding; people have VERY strong opinions about this). The most common reasons I could find for these vehement feelings were merely aesthetic preference, and the belief that hyphens make text just slightly less readable. I think if it does make text any less readable, the amount is negligible. Hyphenation is a common tool used in published books and newspapers; people are so used to seeing the tiny dashes now that I don’t think they truly make any difference in a piece’s cohesion. Turning on/off hyphenation will give a flushed left block of text a different shape, so it just depends on the designer’s eye (or the client’s preference) for which version has less distracting shapes or spaces.

Interestingly, the aesthetic considerations of hyphenation change depending on the language. One person on a design forum mentioned that German has many longer words than English, in which case hyphenation would be even less avoidable. There are general rules of thumb for this, like a maximum of three consecutive hyphens over three lines. Some words in German need to be broken up in specific places or the meaning will change (ie. “beinhalten” and “bein halten” are entirely different words).

The debate is endless, but those designers who have no qualms with the hyphen should definitely be acquainted with the ground rules of their usage.

3 Comments

  1. Kathleen Larkin wrote:

    I can relate to this issue as I am one of those folks who is slightly distracted and mildly annoyed with hyphenation. I would prefer a ragged right margin over hyphens any day if those were my only choices. But what about using justification so that the words are stretched out, as needed, to even out the margins? Is this not done anymore?

    Saturday, October 14, 2017 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  2. Lauren Lapid wrote:

    Very interesting!!! I did a lot of editorial design in high school, and my mentors always hated hyphens, so I was trained to never use them. It always stresses me out now when I design and have to tweak things to avoid odd spacing with hyphens. They definitely help making design with heavy copy easier, but dang are they frustrating!

    Saturday, October 14, 2017 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  3. Catherine Velez wrote:

    This post made me think of a professor I had, who I could have sworn hated hyphens and told us not to use them in his intro design class. When I took another design class from him 2 years later, it turned out he didn’t like frequent hyphens that were back to back. So I got marked down for not using hyphens in my work haha.

    Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 8:24 am | Permalink