Why don’t web site layouts fill the entire screen?

See my web design portfolio at http://www.jesseyoung.com

A comment I hear on occasion from clients when discussing web design ideas is that they want the web page layout to cover the full screen, and that they don’t want anyone to have to scroll downward to see the content. Unfortunately, this is not as simple, nor practical, as it may sound.

Each visitor to your web site sees the site differently
The reality is that each person viewing a website is doing so in their own unique viewing situation. Some people may have large, widescreen desktop monitors the size of small TV’s. Other people may be using a small laptop. Each of these is going to display the same exact website in a slightly different manner.

Many people believe that the web site layout shrinks or grows according to the screen size; they think that if the screen is twenty inches wide then the web site layout just zooms out to fill the screen. And by that reasoning, they also think that if the web site is viewed on a 10″ wide laptop, the layout just shrinks down to fit on that particular screen (if that was the case, just imagine how small the text would be).

Leaving out all of the technical mumbo-jumbo of screen resolution settings and other confusing factors, the easiest way to explain it is may be like this: the web site layout stays the same size – it’s the screen that gets larger or smaller around it.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a web site design layout is eight inches wide. On a 20″ wide monitor that 8″ wide layout may be centered in the middle of the screen, leaving a 6″ wide “empty” area on each side of the layout (6″ on the left, 8″ layout in the middle, and 6″ on the right).

On the other hand, the same exact web site design (8″ wide), viewed on a 10″ wide monitor would only have 1″ of empty space on either side.

People hate scrolling
In 11 years of being a web designer in Seattle, I’ve heard repeatedly “I don’t want anyone to have to scroll down to see the content.”

Again, this is not as simple as it sounds. The 20″ wide monitor described above may be 11″ high. But a laptop that’s 10″ wide, may only have a screen that’s 6″ tall.

Going back to the example above (the web layout stays static and the screen grows or shrinks around it), it becomes clear that it would almost be impossible to create a web design layout that was free from scrolling, at least for certain visitors. People using larger monitors may see all of the content on one screen, while those viewing the same web page on a smaller device may see the top part of the content and then have to scroll down to see the rest of it. It’s just the nature of the beast since we have no control over how each visitor views the web site.

Experienced web designers will knowhow to handle these hurdles
An experienced web site designer is going to take these issues into account when creating a design for your web site, thinking about all of the possible viewing situations and how that’s going to impact the information the visitor sees on your site.

He will be aware of the trends in monitor sizes that are currently in use. He will know that having an 8″ tall picture for your opening banner might not be very practical for some viewers. Or that putting the navigation bar (the buttons) at the bottom of the screen may mean that people using smaller viewing devices may never bother to scroll down and see the buttons (thus never making it very far into your site).

If you’re looking for a professionally created web site that’s going to be comfortable and easy to use for all of your visitors, going with an experienced web designer is always your best bet.

See my web design portfolio at http://www.jesseyoung.com

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