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Is Fixing Really the Solution?

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 7:25 AM

Adam Howell redesigns The Weekly Standards to a fixed width layout. He explains all in his post Don't Want ems, Don't Need ems. Well, to me this is what happens when you try to be pixel perfect like in print in a medium like the web. I really don't think you can impose pixel perfect layouts on the web without making the full site Flash. I mean seriously, look at how many different platforms are out there... sure you can get it close in Mac and Windows, but what about Gnome or other similar platforms? Sure they may represent a smaller portion of your readership, but my point is, it's not going to ever look perfect and identical to everyone... nor should it. If you are still confused, I would recommend reading Fluid Thinking and A Dao of Web Design. These are two great articles that go right to the point of how we should be designing for the web. Remember, just because it looks nearly identical on a Mac or Windows platform today doesn't mean you won't see the same or similar OS on a device 1/2 the size trying to display the same web page in full color and graphical glory. Finding a balance is the key to a true solution, fixing the width is only a temporary Band-Aid.



August 17, 2004 at 9:17 AM

"sure you can get it close in Mac and Windows, but what about Gnome or other similar platforms? Sure they may represent a smaller portion of your readership, but my point is, it's not going to ever look perfect and identical to everyone... nor should it." But by your own argument, it should be fine that it *does* look perfect in my target browsers, but imperfect in minor browsers. It's the rare client that will let you get away with less-than-perfect on the big Windows browsers, but I've never worked with a single one that cares that Gnome renders pages perfectly. Although it's often a bonus when you can say their content is Usable or readable in those browsers.


August 17, 2004 at 9:49 AM

Fixed is fine in my book.


August 17, 2004 at 11:17 AM

Ahh, Nick, you've opened a can of worms with this one. I prefer fixed myself and see absolutley no good reason why someone can't elect to go with a fixed width design. Sure, it's not going to loo the same cross platform, cross broswer, etc. But neither does liquid. I do think with fixed width you have to take into consideration your min-width and the readability of your site, but still, I've read the Dao, been engaged in all sorts of discussion on these topics and still fail to see any compelling reason against fixed width designs. Also, since when does "fixed width" = "pixel perfect"??


August 17, 2004 at 11:23 AM

Thinking about a website in terms of readability...long text lines slow reading down considerably. First, it is easier to jump lines in a long line of text. Second, it takes more time to find the beginning of the next line. If it does nothing else, fixed width helps ensure that your users are able to read your content effeciently. For content-heavy sites, fixed width should be considered first.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 11:29 AM

Fixed is really dodging the issue. Good design should look good (but not be identical) on all platforms and browsers. Using fixed width design is 1) not taking into account the context of the medium in which you are designing in and 2) trying to apply a philosophy from print design to web design which is naturally problematic. If I was designing a movie to be broadcast on TV, I probably won't be concerning myself with the accuracy of print design, have you seen how much "margin" is lost on one TV vs. the next? What about HDTV vs. regular aspect ratios, and what about those smaller screens. You can fix your aspect ratio in TV. I think if you translate that to how the Web works vs. how print works you'll see what I am getting at here.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 11:31 AM

Sean, go back and read up about liquid web design. Clearly no one is talking about line length here. You can have fixed width line lengths in a liquid web design. Keith, read Adam's post as to why he went fixed width. pb, there's nothing "wrong" with fixed per say, it's just really not the best solution long term or much less for this medium.


August 17, 2004 at 11:50 AM

Ahh, Nick, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I could debate you on your points until the cows come home, but I really don't care to have this discussion yet again. ;)

Jeremy Keith

August 17, 2004 at 1:42 PM

Hear, hear, Nick. Let the medium dictate the delivery. In the case of the web, there is absolutely no way of predicting at what size width a design will be viewed. Fixed-width really is dodging the issue, attempting to force the viewer to fit the design rather than the other way around. The ol' line-length argument comes up again and again in these debates and, as you have pointed out, it is possible to ensure readable line-lengths in a good liquid layout. It's all about control. Fixed-width ostensibly gives more control to the designer. Liquid layouts hand control over to the site visitor. I think that many fixed-width designers would, if they were honest, acknowledge that that is the main issue. I can only re-iterate your recommendation to read A Dao Of Web Design. I love that article. A must-read for anyone who wants to "get" the web.

Andrei Herasimchuk

August 17, 2004 at 1:58 PM

Gnome? I mean really... who cares? The reason web sites don't look more "identical" across platforms has more to do with crappy standard support from browsers at the technological level. To ask designers to lose design control over their work becasue browsers suck is bad reason. "Using fixed width design is 1) not taking into account the context of the medium in which you are designing in" Design is about many factors, which include line-length, imagery, illustrations, ornamentation, font size, heading size, color, object separation, etc... Using a fixed width is simpler a means to create objects and grids that works RELATIVE to each other. "2) trying to apply a philosophy from print design to web design which is naturally problematic" It's not about print. It's about design basics like type size, leading value, line length, grids, object separation, flow, etc. Those exist outside the realm of print or web, and have principles that need to be addressed regardless of medium. Address the core problem, not speak around it or over it. There are obvious pros and cons going on here with fixed and liquid and to dismiss the pros of fixed for some reason that the "web is the web" is just doing a serious disservice to your readers.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 2:35 PM

Andrei, do what you like, I don't care. I am just saying that on the average designers who stick to fixed widths really want control in a medium where there will never be control. Take my experience of the recent redesign you made. I can't stand the layout... I am sure it's great to everyone else.. but personally I don't like it, I find it hard to read and I find too many things fighting for attention.. so I disable the css to read your site. I like a lot of what you have to see, but the design gets in my way, so I retake control.... I am not the only web user who will do this on any given site. You should check out what Eric Meyer has to say about client side CSS and you'll quickly relaize that the designer will never fully have control over the presentation layer. Period.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 2:38 PM

note: I am refering to the design I saw maybe 2 days ago.. I appears you have redesigned again... my points are about the previous redesign.

Mike D.

August 17, 2004 at 3:20 PM

I think that people who insist on liquid layouts don't get it. I think people that insist on fixed layouts don't get it. I think people that insist don't get it. This isn't a black and white issue like "Don't use pink text on a salmon background". This is a personal choice issue. I personally like the effect that a liquid layout gives, yet, I'm not willing to give up the design control it takes to use one. This goes out to all liquidheads, not Nick specifically: If you're going to champion the cause of liquid layouts, at least admit it takes some design control away. You can argue that it's okay to take design control away, but just don't argue that you have the same amount of control with liquid as you do with fixed.


August 17, 2004 at 3:29 PM

Thanks Mike. My sentiments exactly. I swear this has to be one of the silliest arguments out there. IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER ENOUGH to be argued about. And yes, I'll be ther first to admit I'm a hypocrite because I was goaded into arguing about it. A Web site will never be made or broken based on whether or not it's fixed. There are many, many bigger issues to worry about.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 3:54 PM

Mike, it looks like you made both Keith and I agree here for once hehe. You should think about going into law. Ok, well, don't you're too valuable for to us here. Anyway, yes, I agree with what you just said. That was my point here... not the last post, but the one before. I'll quote: I agree.. I don't think people HAVE to use fixed or HAVE to use liquid. It is a personal preference thing. I don't disagree with that. I do think that every designer should, however, really understand the medium they are working in.. be it designing 20 story buildings, wrist watches or web sites. Understand how the user will interact with and around the thing you are designing... understand the constraints of the medium and the right technologies to use at the right time and place.

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 3:58 PM

Keith, don't you just hate how debates snowball like that. There are those who post controversial stuff just to draw attention and debate... I didn't mean for this post to go that route. I think it was more instigated by all of us together debating.

Mike D.

August 17, 2004 at 4:04 PM

Glad everyone's in agreement then. By the way, this post has just become the poster child for why naming your URLs based on Post Titles is never a good thing. You have a typo in the title ("solutuion") and since that is being used as the basis for the URL, it's tough to fix one without changing the other. Who says there is never a need to change post titles?! More information, and a nice photo of Ashley Judd in a bedsheet, here: Beautification Revisited

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 4:28 PM

Mike: ahh, but is the error still there? No. One of the befits of rolling your own CMS ;)

Nick Finck

August 17, 2004 at 4:33 PM

A few follow-ups to my last post. First, you can change the title without changing the URL. In this case, both were incorrect so I changed both. Second, the old URL should redirect to the new page, however it doesn't seem to be working at the moment for this specific URL redirection.. probably something I entered in wrong.

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