Why I rotated my monitor 90°

Mobile-first and document-first

Recently, my old monitor at work started showing signs of fatigue. It had suffered from a scratch for years, but it was the shaky power button (that didn’t always work) that settled it; a replacement was needed.

My new monitor is a Dell Ultrasharp U2415 and it’s gorgeous. The image is incredibly sharp and the monitor is a delight to look at in itself. A feature that I never imagined would come to use, however, is the ability to rotate the screen freely. I assume this is most needed, when you hang the monitor on a wall and use it to display numbers/statistics, newspaper frontpages — or whatever you want to display on a monitor in portrait mode.

It was actually while demonstrating this agile rotating ability to a colleague that I decided to try and leave the monitor in the upright position:

(When running Microsoft Windows you can rotate the screen on your monitor by holding CTRL+ALT and using the arrow keys. This makes it easier to keep the content on the screen readable 😉)

The 4 improvements

I decided that I wanted to keep the monitor in portrait mode for the rest of the working day; just to give it a fair chance. This is now a couple of weeks ago, and the screen is still turned ‘the wrong way’. Why?

#1 Documents 📄

Well, the first use-case, where I found the new screen rotation handy was documents. When you you write documents (in programs like Microsoft Word) you do it on an imaginary sheet of paper…in the upright position.

This means that I get a better view of the document as I’m writing, reading, correcting and rewriting it. For me it no longer makes sense to compose a document in portrait mode on a monitor in landscape mode.

You wouldn’t connect a keyboard to a television to compose a document, right..?

#2 Emails 📧

This is somewhat is the same vein as #1, since we are dealing with text (let me throw you a spoiler here; the major gains when rotating a monitor 90º relates to text).

Don’t you just hate it when you open an email full of text and the text runs from one side of the monitor to the other because a lot of email agents don’t support an easy use of margins? Now, you could of course resize the window, but A) that would mean that you could see what’s going on behind the active window (which I never want to be able to; I prefer focus) and B) some emails actually look worse when you resize the window and/or you might need to scroll horizontally (which is the worst scrolling direction in the world) or keep resizing from email to email.

On a portrait monitor you can easily read text-heavy mails, since they are outlined the way, you prefer text: One column, longer than wider.

#3 Articles 📃

The same goes for articles and blog posts on the web. I’ve read that the optimal line length is about 50–60 characters (source). A lot of websites are designed so that text shouldn’t run over too much horizontal space; simply because it hurts the readability of the text.

This really proves to me that the landscape/widescreen monitor is a legacy item from when the first computers where connected to the first monitors. This is also why too many websites have a lot of stuff going on next to the text (photos, fact boxes and (need I say it?) ads); simply because the space is there.

As with documents you get a better glance of the article on a portrait mode monitor. Also, and this is a huge plus, you don’t have to scroll nearly as much. And this is a joy when you just want to place your hands on the keyboard and start typing away with as few distractions as possible.

There are some websites that are designed for monitors being wider than taller. This means that some elements are placed somewhat out of your current view. But believe me, this really isn’t a problem for me. Text takes the center-stage on every website with respect for itself and I have only experienced this with ads. And that’s okay with me.

(If you, like me, publish using WordPress, I recommend switching to a 1-column view in the administration interface. This places the meta-elements below the input field and allows you to focus on the important stuff; typing.)

#4 Development/Debug mode in browser ⚙

This is a bonus win that I really hadn’t seen coming. When you debug websites a lot of the work is done in the browser (the Developer Tools in Chrome are really popular). These tools are usually displayed at the bottom of the browser window.

This is a bonus win that I really hadn’t seen coming. When you debug websites a lot of the work is done in the browser (the Developer Tools in Chrome are really popular). These tools are usually displayed at the bottom of the browser window.

This is such a pain. Now, the landscape view of the website loses some of its height to the development tools to make room for (among other things) code that runs, like text, from the top to the bottom:

This works.

You can, of course, have your Developer Tools window displayed next to your browser window. But for some reason this never really worked for me — there is something about two windows being placed next to each other that messes with my eyes.

The 2 shortcomings

It’s not all good, however. So far I have discovered to use-cases where the rotating monitor isn’t an improvement.

#1 Video 📺

Make no mistake, video is made for the widescreen/landscape/horizontal mode. A fullscreen YouTube video playing on a portrait mode monitor has a lot of black space above and below it (as you no doubt know from your phone).

In September, the Wall Street Journal tried to convince us all that video should be vertical (source). The reason is, of course, mobile. When you post a video on Snapchat it will (no matter how you recorded it) be played in portrait mode.

I think the Wall Street Journal jumped a little ahead and too fast for the rest of us, but vertical videos are coming. Not all videos will be vertical, since we’ll probably keep the televisions and laptops in our lives, but a lot of videos will slowly but safely rotate 90 degrees.

Also… you should read ‘BBC launches daily vertical video news product’.

#2 Image editing 🖼

Since a lot of monitors are horizontal (and this is the default mode in non-smartphone cameras) a lot of photos are horizontal as well. And just as editing vertical photos on a horizontal matter seems counter-intuitive so does horizontal images on a vertical monitor. It’s just the way it is.

So, is it worth it..?

Yes, I would say that it is. My life in front the of the monitor is loaded with text. Texts I read and texts I write. And here the portrait mode monitor is by far superior to sitting in front of a small television, where I constantly have to scroll as I move through the text.

Watching videos on an upright monitor seems somewhat stupid, but this really isn’t an issue for me, since I read and type a lot more than I watch videos or edit images.

So, for the now screen stays in the upright position.