The Myth of 800x600
May 18, 2001 7:57 PM   Subscribe

The Myth of 800x600 Stop desigining web pages for 800x600 screen resolutions, says this interesting article. "The use of fixed-size pages is yet another example of our tendency to focus on technology rather than user behavior. The most commonly available statistics are for screen resolution, a measurement of a certain technology. More relevant, though, is the user-specified viewable browsing area."
posted by Outlawyr (33 comments total)
But measurements of viewable browsing area fall on a continuum and reflect user behavior. For example, a user in one study had a screen resolution of 2560x1024, but a viewable browsing area of 628x623.

2560x1024?! These statistics mean nothing if they're going to include the criminally insane!

Seriously, though, I hate designing for 800x600 but this is the world we live in. Instead of my having to adapt to whatever resolution is standard with this year's monitors, why can't technology accomodate us for a change? Soon enough (well, not soon enough, but soon), the user will be able to easily manipulate content to his or her tastes. Until then, we need some sort of standard. In 12 or 18 months, the standard will be 1024x768, or some such. Until then, we're stuck in a 800x600 universe.

The only decent suggestions ("Compressing/Expanding features", "Variable surface areas") are essentially theoretical, as these guys couldn't find any examples to cite. The rest of their "solutions" make for some pretty ugly websites. Call me a snob (or call me someone who loves his job and wants to keep it), but I won't be a part of that.
posted by jpoulos at 8:31 PM on May 18, 2001

God save us all from "style-centred" Web design. No greater consumptive maw has the 1990s Web culture wrought, a business-generating pretension similar to the "rich user experience."

A month ago one of our associated programs was contracting a redesign; I was to meet and advise the designers. "We’re designing for 800 pixels wide," I was told. I asked, "But why would you want to inconvenience 7% of our visitors that have 600 pixels of viewable space?" It’s a simple question and they had, shockingly, no answer at all, as if it had never occurred to them.

Later, they told me that "unimportant" material (I couldn’t imagine what) would be on the right side of the page. If you can afford to "hide" stuff from 7% of your visitors, why is it on the page at all?

I told them: our site will not be for just 92% of the people who come to the page, but 100%. I want 100% of site visitors to get decent access to page navigation and site content. It doesn't have to look (or sound) 100% the same to everyone, but 100% of the visitors should be able to see everything without scrolling right-left.
posted by tranquileye at 8:32 PM on May 18, 2001

The article offers alternatives but most of them have equal advantages and disadvantages. In the end it's simply a matter of what you're personally going for as a web designer. His argument against aiming for 800x600 resolution sounds hollow to me. Again, it's an aesthetic choice. Some may not like the end result but others do. Overall an alright article, but it told me little that I didn't already know.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:32 PM on May 18, 2001

Who are you calling a "Consumptive Maw"? :-)
posted by jpoulos at 8:34 PM on May 18, 2001

Open up, man! :-)
posted by tranquileye at 8:36 PM on May 18, 2001

To counter, 640 x 480 Isn't Dead Just Yet.

I still know lots of people that browse at less than 8x6 and while its not the majority anymore, its still a sizeable number of people.
posted by djc at 8:52 PM on May 18, 2001

I wish all these so-called "designers" would get over their own egos and realize that it's _my_ browser, _my_ monitor, and _my_ eyes that have to read it.

Sites that are designed in such a way that they're only usable at 640x480, or 800x600, or 1024x768, or any other specific resolution last about 10 microseconds on my screen.

Sites that tell me to resize my browser window to 325x732 don't last that long.

Sites that specify fonts in "N pixels" sizes don't last long enough to actually emit photons from the monitor.

Screw you. Your message, such as it might be, is _not_ that important to me. I stare at monitors 14-20 hours a day, most days. I've spent a great deal of time getting the colors, fonts, sizes, etc., working for minimum eye strain, on _my_ eyes.

If you think I'm going to give myself two days of headaches to read your silly diatribe or cheesy sales pitch, well, you're off your nut.
posted by greeneggsandham at 8:58 PM on May 18, 2001 [1 favorite]

Say what you will about the huge web consultancies, but I've always thought Sapient's ( site was a nice example of a liquid site that fills the browser, regardless of resolution, rather nicely. (Thanks in no small part, I'm sure, to Clement Mok.)
posted by robbie01 at 9:00 PM on May 18, 2001

fyi: 2560x1024 == two 1280x1024 screens side by side
posted by sawks at 9:21 PM on May 18, 2001

GE&H: lay off the caffeine, dude. If you don't care about design, that's fine. That's why God made "text only" pages.
posted by jpoulos at 9:24 PM on May 18, 2001

What a load of Jakob crap that article is. I will design for the majority, not the lowest common denominator.
posted by ljromanoff at 9:27 PM on May 18, 2001

800? Heck, I'm still designing for 550. (Long story.)
posted by mrbula at 9:40 PM on May 18, 2001

The article, in my opinion, has its points.

I agree with ZachsMind when he said the arguement sounds kind of hollow.

I think we're all guilty of sticking to what we know. James, the person who wrote the article is the head of IA at Razorfish in Hamburg (so says the bottom of the article). One could conclude that because of his IA nature and background, he favors function over form, whereas if the head of a Design department wrote the article, he may favor the artistic sites that not only> show you information, but do it in an original way.

I agree with him on a few points, though. We do focus on designing for 800x600 consistently. Why? Because, for the most part, we're told to.

The web is the most flexible medium we have to deal with, and yet we try to bottle it up and make it more like print all the time.

Wouldn't a website that was 100% suited to an individual user's browser, operating system, and viewing tastes be truly a great thing?

The one thing I did notice about the article though, was that he provided no real solution. He expressed a an opinion on something he thought was a growing problem, showed us a couple of existing, and non-existing (to them) technologies, but didn't offer any real advice on how to combat this "tragedy".
posted by christian at 9:59 PM on May 18, 2001

I typicallly design for 600 with some elements that span the witdth of the screen, so that it's interesting for users with larger windows.

I surf at 1000 wide or so.. My monitor's set at 1600x1280.

So why should we support screens that are smaller than a certain size? Example:

A friend of a friend has a lot of money. He regularly gives large lumps of money to other people to build things with, including companies. I helped him fix his machine the other day, and... well, he's running Win95 with IE 4.0 and a 14 inch monitor set to 640x480... and he doesn't see any need to upgrade anything.

"Why?" he asks. "I only use it to check out the websites of companies that I'm going to invest in... otherwise, it sits there collecting dust. It would be a bad investment to sink any more money into it right now."
posted by SpecialK at 10:20 PM on May 18, 2001

Variable surface areas.This refers to defining content boxes that users can pull open or closed. If one box is increased in size, another must decrease in size proportionally.
A resizable frame down the centre of the page would fit this description (my quick example). I've seen the same thing in DHTML. It was a resizable left-aligned DIV with content collapsing around it, so I don't know if that's quite the same as the collapsing content wasn't directly controllable.
posted by holloway at 10:55 PM on May 18, 2001

you'd be amazed how many clients - many of whom are largely unfamiliar with the web - get screamy when i suggest doing liquid pages.

it's the same trap designers fell into: a paralyzing horror upon realization that a medium had to acknowledge its audience's opinion. lack of control is reeeeeeally scary for corporate folk who must give a concrete list of items to boneheads (usually old media) who need to have a static *thing* before being able to register it as "real." and unfortunately, that usually includes having color copies of the entire website and knowing it won't change EVER.

not coincidentally, most business' sites suck ass. which is okay. we've got our own sites to make great, right?

posted by patricking at 11:13 PM on May 18, 2001 [1 favorite]

MSN does a nifty trick for variable browser size. View the page, and resize the window.

Once the browser gets smaller than a certain size, the layout drops a column, and everything reflows around it (IE only). Interesting idea.
posted by kaefer at 11:37 PM on May 18, 2001

designing for small resolutions not only accomodates people too lazy or poor to get decent monitors, it's also an accesibility issue.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:09 AM on May 19, 2001

In most situations, it isn't any more difficult to do liquid designs anyway.
posted by timb at 6:26 AM on May 19, 2001

GreenEggs, can you elabortate on what you said about "N Pixel" designation?

Is this because you like to control your font sizes with the browser, or were you specifically calling out people who use small font sizes?

It seems to me that controlling pixel heights is often the only way to ensure the site is readable across systems and platforms. I'm thinking specifically of Mac.
posted by FPN at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2001

I find it humorous that this article is on a website thats designed for a 800 x 600 resolution. Granted that they put their less important information out to the far right - something I'm sure those advertisers would not be too happy about if they read [and beleive] this article.
posted by schlyer at 8:06 AM on May 19, 2001

No wonder so many sites look so crappy. I had no idea there were so many designers who actually assumed that all browser windows would occupy the entire screen all the time. What a bogus way to do things!

Are there really that many people who zoom their windows as big as they'll go when browsing?

I'm sitting here looking at five browser windows, scattered around and layered on my desktop. Each one has useful information in it. Not one is at a "standard width". Anyone who tried to pull some fixed-screen-size crap on me would achieve a broken, stupid-looking design - and I wouldn't even know it. I'd just think they were incompetent.

Not that my opinions are statistically significant, of course.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:11 AM on May 19, 2001

My company (online newspaper chain) made a very conscious decision from the start to design for the lowest-common denominator. Consequently, we've been designing at 580 for the last three years.

The end result of this is that the page is designed for optimum viewing (font size, etc) in 800 with complete page coverage available at 580, and (in my opinion) borderline readability at 1024.

Does this sound like stone-age thinking? Well, I think so. But I can appreciate where they're coming from. With a small new media staff - most of which is comprised of PT Internet wannas that can't keep a stabilized font size from day-to-day - and complete daily updating, the company is rightfully wary of getting too esoteric with the HTML plumbing. In addition, with a steady stream of special sections and projects to give value added to the regular daily news stuff, the regular designers are kept pretty busy just feeding the status quo.

Because the new media arm essentially is responsible for the output of three seperate newspapers, three different sets of editors, publishers, and advertising directors must all completely concur with any changes made to design and usability. That's pretty much the equivalent of getting nine alleycats to form a pyramid.

I guess the point of this diatribe is to point out that, in a corporate environment, design ends up being a non-design issue. And, in some cases, it's possible that form neccessarily has to follow function. And payroll.
posted by resigned at 8:39 AM on May 19, 2001

Mars: It's users like you that cause me to wake up screaming. :-)
posted by jpoulos at 9:04 AM on May 19, 2001

Applying those universal statistics to your own audience may not make sense. If you're a game company you can count on a bigger proportion of your users having better than average hardware, the most recent browser versions, etc. If you're a religious organization you can count on being seen by a lot of people using 486's in public libraries with monochrome monitors running IE 3.0. Design for your audience.
posted by Foosnark at 10:58 AM on May 19, 2001

Are there really that many people who zoom their windows as big as they'll go when browsing?

Since that's the default for IE on Windows, and since most people never change the defaults on anything, the answer to that question is yes. Many people don't even realize they can have more tthan one browser window open, so the advantage of making it smaller is not obvious to them.
posted by kindall at 11:30 AM on May 19, 2001

Mars, I maximize every single window and use alt-tab or the taskbar to go through them as needed. In fact, whenever I'm showing something on someone else's computer, I've been known to reach over to maximize the windows. I'm addicted to maximized windows. What can I say? :)

About liquid design, I looked at my blog last night and realized that I had hard coded at 800. I took that out and set both table cells to 100% width. Now the scale down to at least 563 (due to two graphics). It took five minutes and didn't really do anything horrible to my site.

What does this mean? It means that yes, it is easy. Can everyone do it? Probably. Does everyone want to? No. I don't blame many for not doing it either, just like I don't blame people for supporting the last 5 years of browsers. The flip side of that of course is that they designer is making a conscious decision on what is important and who can see their site.

Of course, Mars, you'd do well not to immediately assume incompetence. I think you're in the minority, but I could be wrong...
posted by fooljay at 12:00 PM on May 19, 2001

designing for small resolutions not only accomodates people too lazy or poor to get decent monitors, it's also an accesibility issue

If you hadn't added accesibilty to the end of that you would have deserved a good verbal skewering! Many of the people who surf where I work cannot stand their monitors set at anything more than 640x480. Of course, we have crappy monitors (luckily, our lease on these systems is up this year) but for the most part it's due to poor eyesight/eye strain issues.

As for cheap monitors, the system I'm on right now has an 8-year old Princeton Graphics 15-inch monitor on it that cost me $75 used - and it looks great at 1024x768 (Rage 128 on a Mac.) Money isn't an issue, quality is - and what gets bundled with most cheap PC's, even though it's new, is crap. Unfortunately, that probably pertains to 80% of the people who own computers...
posted by RevGreg at 2:46 PM on May 19, 2001

When I design a web page, I try and make it usable in 640x480, optimized for 800x600, and usable in everything above that. Take a look at my page if you want to see what I mean. In 640x480, the content is visible, but the boxes on the right are cut off. No big deal. In 800x600, it's just about perfect. Everything higher, the table sticks at the same width and gets centered.

Some people despise that centered-column thing. I did it for a good reason, though. Wide lines of text are harder to read. It's the same reason that newspaper stories are aligned in tall, thin columns. I also use a slightly larger font for people who have trouble reading text in the first place, or for people running higher resolutions.

And just fyi, I run at 1152x864 with a browser window at 800x600.
posted by CrayDrygu at 4:14 PM on May 19, 2001

Dismissing greeneggsandham's comment outright doesn't serve the issue. It's not the user's fault for their hardware or personal viewing preferences. This pervasive attitude of the user being at fault is wack and does nothing to solve the problem. Would you rather we all had the same standard boxes? Well, go for it - it's called television. Bye bye.
posted by roboto at 4:58 AM on May 20, 2001

I'm with fooljay on the always-maximized practice. With a double-row taskbar at 1024x768 on a 19" monitor. In theory, I could probably run at 1280 x 1024 or even 1600 x 1200, but half the point of a big monitor is that standard-size fonts are quite readable at 1024 x 768.
posted by drothgery at 6:06 AM on May 20, 2001

640x480 optimized pages look crap on my 21" @ 1600x1280, but i dont whinge about it. They're made that way for numerous reasons and i accept it People with monitors 14" @ 640x480 trying to view a page optimized for a larger resolution should do the same.

People do what the want on the 'net, its still an untamed frontier - i've learnt not to expect people to cater for me, if they do its nothing more than a bounus.
posted by vari at 6:18 AM on May 20, 2001

I run my system at 800x600, but in practice because of my poor eyesight, it turns out to be equivalent to 640x480 (I scale fonts, so that the MeFi default font is something like Verdana 20. :)

I expect to bump my machine up to 1024x768 when I get WinXP, but I will still have to crank up the fonts even further. In 5 years, my eyesight will worsen enough that I'll need a 21" monitor, so nothing will change. (I have a 6-year old NEC 5fge 17" monitor that just won't die...)

I don't react well, as a rule, to designers telling me I must get new equipment/scale my res just for their one site, or that I am an idiot for not doing what they say.
posted by dmoisan at 1:10 PM on May 22, 2001

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