Fluid design ... always?

Subject: Fluid design ... always?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Kate <kate -at- pulpculture -dot- org>
Date: Tue, 20 Dec 2005 10:22:03 -0500

Kate wondered: <<We've been working on CSS layouts for awhile. When we send the sites for critique at all the usual HTML/CSS, particularly ALT.html.critique (which Bonnie Granat's a big fan of), sites, we've been told that we should be using fluid designs. Blogs typically use them so that the page stretches across the screen.>>

There are a few good reasons to use a fixed design, such as when the goal is to show off your typographic skills or when the physical relationships between chunks at different points on the screen are important. But in that case, you should be considering using PDF or a graphic, where you can precisely control positioning irrespective of the browser being used. If positioning isn't crucial, then fluid design is always a better choice.

You can also offer two designs: one fluid, one fixed. I haven't tried this, but it should be possible to use identical content and simply apply different templates to it, then import that identical content using an "include" code in the HTML. That's more work, and I have no idea how well it will work across browsers and browser versions.

<<But, one thing many clients utterly hate is a site that stretches across the screen making the line lengths too long for ease of reading. I agree, coming from a publishing industry background. It doesn't make any sense if the point is to develop a site that people will read, why make it hard to read?>>

The quick answer is to teach them how to resize the browser window appropriately. If they don't know how to do that, they're uncomfortably kludging their way through life on the Web. If your audience is really that clueless, why not include a "Customize the display" link at the top of the list of links to explain how? You can pretty much always define a browser window size that will break any layout, so why bother trying to design the perfect layout?

If you're feeling more obtrusive, you could probably size the windows for them via Javascript. That lets you control the window size, at least initially, but you run the risk of annoying people who really do know what they want in terms of window size and don't want you telling them what size they should be using.

If you're alreadys using CSS, it should be easy to define the left and right margins of the text areas, though I don't know whether CSS lets you set a maximum line width. (If so, that would be the way to go.) It's arguably even easier to accomplish your goal in vanilla HTML: treat the text part of the page as a table containing only a single cell, set the table width to ca. 80% of the screen width, and center the table. Kludgy, but largely effective because even with a huge screen, the text will generally fit within an acceptable if suboptimal line length.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Fluid design ... always?: From: Kate

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