Most ideal size for your Web Site?

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?

Browser Display Statistics

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.

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Posted On: 05-21-08
Categories: Web Design
  1. Justin says:

    For the love of $DIVINITY, please utilize resolution-independent layouts whenever possible.

    > If users have very wide screens, your site can be stretched
    > to the point of comedy [when using fluid layouts].

    Have you seen what static 800×600 layouts look like on a maximized 1920×1200 browser window? Now *that’s* comedy. You’re looking at twice as much white space as there is actual content.

    The fact of the matter is that people shouldn’t maximize their browser windows on large monitors — both static and fluid layouts look ridiculous on massive 23+ inch displays with a maximized browser window. But for the 70-80% bulge in the middle of the screen-size bell curve, a resolution-independent layout will nearly always look best.

    • Jim Hollomon says:

      Valid point, but difficult to put into practice on eCommerce or showcase sites where lots of graphical elements are vital to the look and feel. I used to do lots of fluid designs. You can use CSS to constrain them so they don’t stretch to ridiculous limits on huge monitors where the browsing window is maximized. But I found that my clients simply could not wrap their heads around the graphics that will work on a flex display without leaving acres of white space at high res. They couldn’t manage and update the site on their own, even if they had a comercial artist on staff..

      In fact, I abandoned flex width on my own site (which is desperately in need of an update) because I just didn’t have time to produce the panoramic graphics that will fill a slide show window when it’s squished into a 800 x 600 res screen and still fill it without excess white space when it’s running at 1600 x 1200.

  2. Justin says:

    LOL. Seems a timely topic. Engadget is hosting a poll on this very topic, and it seems the technorati at large agree with my position:

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/05/21/poll-fixed-or-variable-width-content-for-engadget/

  3. Edward says:

    I’m not sure that people realize that having too wide of a column would make the text HARDER to read…

    Especially on forums, a very wide screen layout would make it really annoying to scan through the text in the forum index view.

  4. Kevin Boss says:

    @Justin – Great points. I really should have stressed resolution-independent layouts more, or at least pointed out more positives. I’m guilty of not using them more often, like with this very site. Though if it were much wider it would look a little silly since I don’t have very much content.

    Here is an article (which also agrees with you) about fluid layouts and typography:

    http://webtypography.net/Rhythm_and_Proportion/Horizontal_Motion/2.1.2/

  5. Whenever I design a website layout i’m thinking about what my target audience is (duh). While I prefer fluid designs, sometimes I decide that a fixed-width layout is the best way to go. And every once in a while I come to the conclusion that there may be a significant portion of my traffic that could be using a 800×600 resolution.

    But as Edward stated, sometimes too wide of a page can be just as hard to read. If you have a page with a smaller amount of content and someone comes along with a 1900×1600 reso and stretches it to just one line of text, that may not look right.

  6. Wayne Rooney says:

    800 x 600 is dead and gone.

    Do you design sites w/ dial-up in mind? Nope. So don’t design layouts for 800 x 600, unless your target is those few w/ 800 x 600, or are instructed to do so.

    Do you design for Netscape Navigator? Nope.

    Do you design for 256 colours? Nope.

    All went the way that 800 x 600 has gone.

    It’s finished—end-of-debate…

    Let’s move on to something a little more relevant to web design in the 21st century…

  7. Max says:

    Found your blog on yahoo – thanks for the article but i still don’t get it.

  8. Ashley Williams says:

    Minimum I design for is 1024px wide, but if I’m making a design fluid, I try not to make it too fluid. I just don’t like seeing sites stretched onto a 1920px display. even 1360px on one of my monitors seems too wide for some sites.

    One thing (and this is kind of off-topic) I have noticed over the last few days (due to a DSL line fault, my IP profile is at 135Kbits!!), is that people on lower speed connections basically have no internet left. Everybody expects you to have broadband, which is a shame for some people where broadband simply isn’t an option. I will defiantly be looking into putting smaller images (i.e. your http://kevinboss.net/tags.gif, etc…) into one image and using CSS to split them, I see that as being a very good way of speeding sites up. Why have 20 1-4KB static, site round images load when you can have 1x 30KB image load?

  9. Kevin Boss says:

    @Ashley – If you’re dealing with enough images, it’s totally worth using sprites. Especially if you’re serving pages to people on weak wireless signals. Here’s a great article on the subject:
    http://css-tricks.com/css-sprites-what-they-are-why-theyre-cool-and-how-to-use-them/

  10. Ashley Williams says:

    @Kevin: Ahh sprites, that’s what they are called! I spent 5 minutes yesterday on Google trying to work out what they were called! Thanks for the article! ;)

    And in reply to your twitter message (quite new to twitter myself, not sure how replies work), I think the compatibility is quite good, google uses it for its logos – http://www.google.co.uk/images/nav_logo3.png

  11. Makes sense, however I must agree that I do not like seeing sites that are stretched too wide and looking extremely weird. Where is the happy medium?

  12. Web size is the most important part of creating website. Before we creating the design, i am always ask to the clients, what browser that they used, what is screen resolution the used.

    But for the browser, i always do in Firefox first then the other browser.

  13. I think the size is realy important, yes 800 x 600 used to be perfect but as the price of monitors have come down most people who have any money to spend would have a nice pc and glazed moniter screen.

  14. Surfing on a movie screen..haha..that’s a good one. I think it is best to keep it simple with the 800 x 600 for the website to fit on most computer screens, plus people will be familiar with the size of the layout on most computers anywhere.

    I say stick with the 800 x 600 for now I say.

    Best of luck, from Dave, your fave double glazing guy :)

  15. David says:

    Ignorance is a terrible thing, it’s what has given us flat panel monitors and worse… WIDE screen flat panel monitors. People who buy an off-the-shelf computer don’t care about quality, and unfortunately this accounts for most people. So it really doesn’t matter how you design a website because your audience will be too stupid to care or to know any better.

    If you do not have a CRT monitor and a computer with a video card then you can’t see any website as it was meant to be seen by the web designer.

    No flat panel monitor can even come close to the number of colors a CRT monitor can display. People have been marketed to rather successfully. They’ve been told that they don’t have enough room for a CRT monitor.

    Advertisers and marketers give thanks everyday for public education. Without it we wouldn’t have nearly the number of easily fooled people that we have in society today.

  16. Jon - SEO Manchester says:

    Great article, it’s so good to have this data, I keep telling my clients that 800×600 is in the past and some don’t believe me. I can not point them to your website…

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