Fixed Width vs. Fluid Designs

In today's LED-Digest, there's a discussion about the merits of fixed-width designs vs. fluid layouts. For the most part, people on the list seem to prefer fixed-width. Here are two comments from members explaining why.

With A/B and multivariate testing, placement of important elements on a page, such as the primary call-to-action, can make or break an ROI of a landing page. With a fluid-width design, measurements are not nearly as accurate as with fixed-width designs.

— Shari Thurow

Also, we're really not looking for clever, fluid designs: Most of our clients are b2b on a budget, and they want something straightforward that conveys their value message, makes them look like a brand leader and increases the prospect's trust in them.

— Beth Ann Earle

The following quote comes from a fan of fluid designs, but with a catch.

I use fixed width for the outside columns as well as any columns in the header and footer which may have need for specific placement, and variable width for the center column with the content.

— Kathy Wilson

Of those 3 quotes, I agree with Kathy Wilson with the addition of one tweak to her suggestion. And that is to apply a maximum width to the center column so that it can't get too wide. With this additional design element, the pseudo-fluid design can accommodate users using various screen resolutions without introducing usability issues for high-end monitor users.

I've also seen another variation, but always thought it too cumbersome to implement. This other idea involves using a fixed-width design with an added column on the right that appears only when the user's screen resolution is high enough to make it visible without scrolling. This additional column is most often disposable content such as an since a good percentage of a site's visitors won't see it at all.

I find myself in good company on this one. Jakob Nielsen, a usability expert, recently wrote in one of his newsletters that websites should be designed to display optimally at 1024×768 since about 60% of web users have their screens at that resolution. However, he advocates using a fluid design that displays properly through the range of 800×600 (which accounts for 17% of today's users) all the way through a resolutions up 1280×1024.

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1 Comment

  1. I have seen comments that it easy for a user to adjust his browser window to get the viewing pane just right for him. Personally I think it's unreasonable to expect a reader to adjust his browser window just for your site. Fixed width gets my vote both for readability and consistency.

    Hope it's useful!


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