Thursday, August 4th, 2005 - 9:08 PM

Web Design (Browser Width)

Most web sites look great with a browser width of 800. Yay! Good job, most web designers!

Most people don’t run resolutions lower than 800×600, and most people who do run 800×600 probably run their applications maximized, because 800×600 is so tiny.

There are a few sites (like Tucows), pushing the browser width envelope. I assume they’re thinking everyone runs at a resolution of 1024×768 or greater, which is probably practically true (except for people who browse from mobile devices), but they’re also assuming that people run their browsers that wide. That’s where their assumption breaks down. At 1024×768, people probably maximize their browsers, but I run 1920×1200, and it just doesn’t make sense to run a full-screen 1920×1200 browser.

At 800 wide, Tucows (I’m picking on them, although there are other offenders) looks like this to me:

Tucows at 800 wide.

Well, actually it’s much larger than that, but you get the idea.

To navigate, I have to choose between the following unappealing options:

  • Continually scroll left and right (not fun at all).
  • Resize my browser (which will change my default browser size).
  • Maximize my browser (which wastes space and still looks bad).

Here’s what Tucows looks like with my browser maximized:

Tucows at 1920 wide.

If you want, you can make a web site look reasonably good at a variety of resolutions — for example, the web site for Silkthread, my business, looks like this with a width of 800:

Silkthread at 800 wide.

It looks like this at 1920×1200:

Silkthread at 1920 wide.

I admit, it doesn’t look great at 1920, but most people running 1920×1200 probably don’t use a maximized web browser. Amazon doesn’t look great at 1920×1200 either, but they do make use of the available space.

Microsoft uses a different (and also reasonable) approach. They actually detect the browser resolution and generate different HTML based on your resolution. At 1920×1200 they don’t completely fill the browser, but it looks better than if they did.

So, whenever I encounter sites that expect a browser wider than 800, I choose one of the unappealing options I listed (maximizing, scrolling constantly, or resizing my browser, risking changing my browser’s default width). As a result, my experience is less positive, and I get a bad feeling about going back.

It’s usually in the best interest of web designers to appeal to their users, so if you happen to be a web designer, hopefully you’ll agree that it’s reasonable to make your sites work well with a browser 800 pixels wide, even if many of your users will be running 1024×768 browsers.

It’d probably help to have some browser size statistics… maybe I should compile some.

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