Resolution vs. browser size vs. fixed or adaptive width

There's been plenty of talk about screen resolutions and browser window sizes in the last few months, the latest being Cameron Moll's Optimal width for 1024px resolution? and Should all sites be fluid?. It's a good (and neverending) discussion to have, and people tend to have a pretty strong opinion on the matter.

More opinions on the same subject:

I personally prefer sites that adapt to my window size. I use large monitors but never maximise my browser window, so sites that use a wide fixed width (A List Apart, The New York Times, and Technorati to name a few) give me a horizontal scrollbar. I don't like it, especially since I think in most cases it isn't necessary.

By all means if you want to make your design look its best at a certain width, optimise it for that width. But in most cases there is little reason to lock down the design to a pixel width.

I realise there are cases where fluid or elastic widths are impractical. I've been working on a couple of sites lately that have advertising or external content that use a fixed width, and that does make it much harder to use a flexible width. Not impossible, but definitely more work, so in the end we decided to use fixed widths for those sites. Just to let everybody know that I know about having to compromise.

In many cases, however, I feel fixed widths are used for the wrong reason - designer vanity. Come on, you're designing for the Web, which means it's your job to let things be flexible when you can. So what if the design isn't pixel perfect when the user resizes their window or increases text size? Design sites to look "perfect" for the masses and adapt nicely for the rest.

Posted on November 27, 2006 in Usability, Accessibility