Fixed Width Layouts, good or bad?

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Web Design Layouts

When it comes to web usability and layout, one of the first and most important web design decisions is whether to go with a fixed width or liquid layout. Liquid layouts can fill the width of the entire screen, no matter what the resolution. Fixed page layouts hold the same width no matter how large or small the browser window is (much like this website).

Why use fixed width layouts

  • The main argument for fixed layouts is that text is difficult to read when line width becomes too long. Since many Internet users are now viewing with resolutions of at least 1024 x 768 - this can create extremely long line lengths especially when they span the entire width of the screen. Research shows that text is most legible at line lengths of 12 words per line. This would require a fixed width of approximately 420 pixels at the default browser font size.
  • Positioning of objects are exact, that is, you can be sure where images will fall onto the a page. This tends to make the design process easier particularly on very graphical sites since you don't have to worry about how the site will look at very high or low resolutions.

Why use Liquid layouts?

  • You don't get stuck with wasted space on the page like you can using fixed widths. Liquid layouts can make use of the whole screen at any size - and most likely minimise the amount of scrolling as a result (many consider this another advantage).
  • Most pages designed at fixed width assume the person viewing the page has a resolution of 800 x 600 at minimum. While this is more than likely for pc's, in 2004 we saw a great increase in mobile users accessing the Internet with screen sizes much smaller than 800 x 600. Mobile phones tend to have small screen sizes of about 200 pixels wide - This would involve lots of horizontal scrolling to view the entire page!

The argument for which is better is an old one and there is no correct answer. The primary reason for using fixed width layouts seem to be controllable line lengths - resulting in easier to read content. While others see this as limiting the usability of a website by forcing a particular screen width. Which layout do you use, do you think it depends on the individual site, or feel that one layout is always better than the other?

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