Flexible Width Designs

Matt comments on the apparent death of flexible width designs. Flexible width designs seem to work well in web applications (tasks for example), but on my web site I’ve chosen to use a fixed width.

Frankly, the biggest knock I have against flexible width designs is that they often encourage usability problems. There is a reason newspapers and magazines have long used narrow columns: you can read narrow columns faster and easier because it requires less eye travel. Jason even did a little research on this a few years back to find some documentation on this that we could use during a debate at work.

This is also one of the biggest reasons I love the :scare: wide-screen :/scare: layout in NetNewsWire (looks like FeedDemon supports this as well) and hate the standard three-pane view.

Mozilla Thunderbird has support for the three column view, but for some reason I haven’t really liked it – I think because I like being able to see the sender, subject, date and status. I don’t use the three pane view though, I open evey email in a new window – even when I use Outlook.

Getting back to web presentation for a moment, I think it is definitely time to introduce a relatively easy way to make text flow between columns in HTML. I saw this done using some pretty fancy JavaScript on a magazine site 3-4 years ago, but I can’t remember where.

Give reading in narrower columns a try, you might be surprised at the result.