It’s one of the oldest questions in the book: what browser size should I design my website for? Do I cater to people running lower resolutions such as 800×600, do I think my visitors want a wider layout like 1024×768, or do I think my visitors surf on a movie screen? Well, they probably aren’t going to be surfing on a movie screen, and chances are that they’re running something higher than 800×600. How about I stop with these generalizations and give you some useful info? How about a pretty chart?
According to w3schools, less than 8% of the web is using an 800×600 resolution. You can debate those numbers and say that the information gathered by w3schools is biased toward those more inclined towards technology (read: nerds), and you’d be absolutely right. Whether or not you trust the numbers given by w3schools, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find statistics indicating 800×600 accounts for anything close to significant.
If 800×600 is insignificant, why even question what size to build by? Because even though it’s not a large percentage, it’s still a percentage. Let’s say you run an ecommerce site, and you get 1,000 hits a day. That small percentage is now 50 people per day, 50 people who may or may not buy something from you. Hopefully you’ll see the value in 50 potential customers per day, and try to accommodate them.
Unless you are either psychic or have a really impressive statistic program, you’re not going to get accurate numbers on what size your users are browsing with. Even resolution statistics aren’t an accurate metric because it would have to be assumed that all users are running a full screen browser, which simply is not true.
Then what do you do? One of three things.
Create a resolution-independent site that uses percentages rather than absolute values.
This method can be quite challenging depending on your site’s content and needs. If users have very wide screens, your site can be stretched to the point of comedy. I’ve seen very well done liquid websites, but it’s not the best solution for every site.
Err on the side of caution
Create that site with the 800×600 people in mind. Sure they only make up a small percentage, but at least you know you have your bases covered. Even though most of your visitors have a higher resolution, who’s to say what percentage of them are browsing in a full size window? My resolution is set to 1280×1024, but my browser window is usually 900 pixels wide. It’s how I roll ok? The downside here is that users with wider screens may be annoyed that they see so much wasted space.
Use the size that best compliments your content
Quite an idea huh? Use your site’s content to choose the size that best displays it. Instead of cramming everything into a vertical column, spread that sucker out if it helps display your content better. Your site may not be accessible to those with lower resolutions.
This is certainly not a complete (or well-written) list, but I personally think they are the most realistic and reasonable options. If you were devoted enough, sure you could create style sheets for multiple browsers, but frankly I’d rather work on adding and improving to my content than struggling with the size of my site.
In closing, there is no ideal size. There are different options you can choose, with each option having negatives and positives. Want to read more on the subject? Here ya go. Just remember who had the pretty pie chart.