A resolution for all

Prompted by a discussion (hopefully my last comment will appear soon enough) I had on another website regarding web design (specifically, one I did not care for), I began to think about screen resolution. I remember months ago when some bloggers started talking about dropping support for smaller screen sizes because they just weren’t showing up in the logs enough. And while I can appreciate here in the mid-aughts that 640 pixels is a ridiculously small width for anything short of specialized usage (e.g. PDAs, cell phones, or visually impaired users), it seemed strange to me that 800 pixel-wide designs were also under threat of dismissal simply because 1024×768 had become the most dominant screen size.

I’m sitting here at my desk at work with my laptop screen set at 1400×1050 and my secondary one running 1680×1050, so what’s my problem? Well, my problem is that I’m also running the Google Desktop Sidebar, Outlook, Winamp, a couple Active Directory utilities, and multiple explorer windows. In other words, I don’t run my browsers full screen – I actually multitask. Sure, I could easily just bump the size of my windows a little bit as I have in the past, but why would I want to? I can’t think of many sites that actually benefit from going all the way up to a width 1024px. When I look at the new designs at the New York Times and CNN, I can’t help but notice that there’s a lot of crap that pushes them out that wide. Keeping my browser 50-75 pixels narrower loses almost no content. So why not just shrink that silly video player or drop one of the excessive “other news”-type columns to get the page back down to a more practical 800-900 pixels wide?

Of course the response would probably be, because they don’t see a need anymore than I see a need to increase my width. But I will once again submit that the content doesn’t need the extra width and even tends to be hurt by it. Those pages tear my eyes in different directions and make it difficult to focus on what’s important. Granted, a newspaper is not nearly as focused as a blog is and doesn’t have the luxury of using the narrow one column design Michael at Binary Bonsai finally settled on (for now). But there is a balance that can be struck – one in which 3 or 4 well-sized columns are used to place content appropriately, and bells and whistles are axed if they don’t truly add to site.

It’s not like I have any definitive answers – heck, I didn’t even do this design – but that doesn’t mean I can’t question these decisions. Afterall, I am the user. Personally I think the fluid-to-a-point method works best (once IE7 is out with real support), but that obviously won’t fit every situation and will be impractical for others. But, in the meantime, please try to remember that some of us with high resolution monitors don’t feel like reading paragraphs stretched across 1200 pixels – my eyes are bad enough as it stands.

2 thoughts on “A resolution for all”

  1. The website in question here is mine. Now while I appreciate your comments referring to the “gaudy” design, I naturally disagree. Compared to many sites out there, it’s not bad at all, especially for the content it contains… Most blogs grow as content is chronologically added, but for the purpose of this blog, it needed nearly 2000 items from the beginning!!

    I too, didn’t write that template, so my tweaking is a work in progress. I may actually move the RSS buttons to the left sidebar eventually, or remove them entirely.

    And in reference to screen resolution, I indicated that since I have a fixed-width 3 column wordpress theme going, in order to see all of the content (which is all relevant, and not just ads or irrelevant material), you had to be running at least 1024.. however, seeing you have higher resolution displays (I too am running conjoined 20″ LCD’s at 1600×1200) you can easily resize the browser to a smaller window and still see the full content. But my main content window is only 560 pixels wide, so that you can shrink down to 800 and it’s still usable.

    And yes, the site is a mashup of a directory and a blog. That was the intention. With the advent of blogs, and their rise in popularity, it was a judgement call to implement the site in such a manner. I played with various CMS systems (drupal, mambo, etc).. and it was too immature of a technology for me to be able to employ less-sophisticated users to contribute to the site. Using wordpress to organize a directory isn’t the easist thing in the world to do, but it works, and it is organized. The feel of a comfortable personal blog, the look of a e-zine, with the functionality of a directory. It was done on the fly anyway, with minimal planning.. kinda “just happened”….

    I’ve had two weeks off from work before, and all I did was drink. I think this was a better alternative. 🙂

  2. Moving the buttons has made a huge difference as, honestly, they were what I was calling gaudy. The rest of the design seems pretty nice, and doesn’t really need much more than some tweaking (depending, of course, on what you want to do with it).

    I do appreciate the fact that the main content is seen in most resolutions. I guess what I’d really like to see (and this isn’t just you, this is exactly what I was talking about with the NY Times and CNN) is flexibility on the outer columns. In other words, that right column can shrink quite a bit without losing anything to fit smaller screens. Hopefully with IE7 actually supporting min- and max-width that will become more practical.

    Also, my comment about it being a mashup between a blog and a directory was not really a criticism, so much as an explanation for why I disliked the navigation. That’s a tricky project to really pull of right, and I agree that systems like Drupal and Mambo can just be way too complicated to bother with. On the other hand, have you played much with pages in WP? I think you might be able to shift a lot of content to “static” pages to go along with the blog. Also, I’d recommend looking into some of the alternative archive plugins available – there are some that will just use the titles of entries and could help you avoid using manually-edited entries for the directory pages.

    Sorry if I sounded too flippant in the beginning – the whole “page requirements” thing is a bit of a pet peeve of mine and set me off 🙂 . I’ve poked around some more and like what I’ve seen and think it’s a great idea – especially for an ex-Hobokenite who likes to keep in touch with the changes there.

    And trust me, this post may have been inspired by your site, but it was directed much more at others.

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