YouTube’s New Design: It’s Not Centered

YouTube’s newest redesign of Dec 2012 brings a ton of changes in both function and layout in big ways–and naturally most of its users are up in arms about it. Most people chalk up grumblings after similar redesigns to growing pains, but sometimes there is more to these complaints.

This is probably one of those times.

Users have many legitimate gripes with the new design such as the width of the new side bar forcing most pieces of content to elide, or the changes to how subscription content is displayed. However, in my opinion the most senseless change is the switch from a centered page design to a left-aligned layout.

YouTube, what were you thinking?

Personally I am an advocate of a centered page design, and in some cases a centered jello layout. There are many benefits to this simple layout and thus it has become by far the most common on the web.

First, it works great for multiple monitors and big monitors alike. The left aligned layout in YouTube’s redesign creates a huge chunk of white space on any modern resolution, which is very annoying to a user with even a single monitor. The problem is exacerbated for users with multiple monitors, as now there’s likely a void of dead space between them. This is only going to get worse as monitors with greater resolution hit the market.

Next, a centered layout scales from a base screen size up to about 2x the size before it begins to visually fail by having inordinate amounts of unused space. A left aligned layout begins to fail at 1.5x the size, as the trailing white space then fails the rule of thirds and becomes distracting.

Furthermore, it is overall a very aesthetically pleasing layout. The content is front and center, and the white space is mitigated across both edges of the screen. This obviously isn’t the case with the left-aligned layout, where the page is lopsided and the user must literally turn their head to look at the content on modern displays. A liquid layout answers some of these issues, but eventually at large resolutions it begins to look spacey or stretched as it runs out of content.

Finally, a centered layout is considerably easy for a traditional visual designer to work with, and it is simple to develop and maintain due to the simplicity of the code and the consistent experience across screen sizes. Now, you would think YouTube wouldn’t give this too much thought as it presumably has plenty of resources to spend on such a vital change… but then the same point can be said for a left-aligned layout as well.

So, why did YouTube switch? Is it to be more aligned with G+ and the rest of its products? Probably. Is it a smart thing for them to do? Probably not. YouTube is a website for watching VIDEOS, and when watching a video the last thing a user wants is to be distracted by the backdrop. This is why in every movie theater the room is nearly symmetric, and the screen is centered on the backdrop. The theater model is so obvious to design around–what happened?! It makes me wonder how much user experience testing YouTube does on their design work.

Now, all of this being said, if YouTube wanted to turn the corner and knock one out of the park, all it needs to do is implement a Responsive Layout. It would be a big achievement for such a web giant, and it would awesome. DO IT!!

Note: Looks like I found a bug with the new design. The subscriptions list in the side bar prevents scrolling of the window even when there aren’t enough items to trigger the overflow scrollbars. How many QA did they say they had again?

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3 Comments

  1. Muhammad Talha
    Posted December 12, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Seriously, this annoys me so much… Seeing all that empty space to the right hand is driving me nuts.

  2. Jay
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    If you’re running Firefox, install the Greasemonkey addon, then download/ install YouTube Center for Greasemonkey.

    • Brent Grossman
      Posted April 20, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      I’m more concerned about YouTube’s design decisions setting a precedent, but thanks for the tip! :-)

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