Considerations for web designers looking to optimize the user experience
When it comes to what they want to accomplish when creating or redesigning their commercial websites, it seems only natural that every company our web designers talk to in New Jersey or New York is looking for a way to gain an edge. They all want to develop a look and feel that is more attractive than the competition’s, and that retains visitors long enough for them to engage with the business. A key — but quite possibly under appreciated and overlooked — calculation in website design involves the interplay between screen size/resolution/width and user preferences.
An article on the front page of last week’s New York Times called attention to the growing popularity of 30-inch desktop monitors, and even 55” HDTV screens now have such good built-in web browsers that using a giant TV to access the Internet is well within the range of possibility. Screen resolutions have risen dramatically over time, too, with 1280×1024 now typical. So is it time for web designers to unleash their creativity by using all that space and all those pixels to the fullest? In particular, how wide should we make the screen?
Page width options
You can choose to make your site’s screen width fixed or flexible. For fixed, you set specific pixel numbers for the widths of each page division. You can count on the page always looking the same, but visitors’ screen widths and/or browser settings may mean that they will have to scroll horizontally to see the whole page. Those with big screens and high resolution settings may see large amounts of empty space on the screen.
Alternatively, using percentages or ems so that the widths of items are flexible allows the page display to vary depending on the screen and how it’s set. This can be a good thing, but you should keep in mind that when text boxes get too narrow or too wide, they look funny and are hard to read. Sometimes it’s best to use fixed for the text elements and let images and other kinds of divisions flex in size to accommodate various browser widths.
Who’s using the big screens — and who isn’t?
For solutions to design problems, it’s best to look to what equipment visitors use and how they behave. Workers in high-tech and design industries, as well as those with high-end laptops and affluent consumers who can afford the biggest and newest are the most likely to have access to the web via large, high-resolution monitors. But it’s important to remember that even then, many people keep multiple windows open on different parts of their screens, do not maximize their browsers, and may even choose lower resolution settings for better readability. If your web designers are using the screen to its fullest, those choices may mean that your visitors will still have to scroll to view your whole page.
Students, workers in companies that keep their outdated computer equipment until it’s beyond repair, or those who favor tablets may be left frustrated by the confusion of navigating your elaborate screen layout. And let’s not forget that little elephant in the room — the smartphone. Pinching and dragging to view sites created for the biggest screens is a pain, and very few have the manual dexterity to accurately tap on a teeny drop-down.
How the savvy web designers decide
At Dotcomweavers, our web developers strongly believe that a smart way to design an attractive website is to start by studying your intended audience. Check your web logs or other monitoring tools to track what screen resolutions your visitors are using. Think about the habits of your target demographic. Then design your website to suit the preferences of the customers you expect to use it.
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