Life Below 640px

You’ve probably seen a similarly-named post proclaiming some ill-thought-out idea about folds. This post isn’t about the fold.

It’s about the window width.

You see, there are a good number of people using windows that are below what we consider average (say, 1920×1200 or so). This isn’t even about the total screen size, but rather is about the size of the content area for any specific window.

It’s possible to full-screen browsers, these days, which will fill up the screen, but the basic idea behind Windows was that we have… well, windows. Multiple windows, so that we can work on a couple things at a time. Windows with scroll-bars and status-bars and title-bars and possibly chocolate bars (but I wouldn’t bet on that last one).

With wide screens, one can have a couple things open at once. I’ve found it handy to have twitter open to the side while I browse in the remaining screen space. On a 1024×600 netbook, that means I have something like 629×454 of webpage.

Life below 640px.

At this moment, I’ll take a moment to mention The Fold. Yes, people can scroll, with that helpful little wheel on their mouse. That one-directional wheel. The one that can’t scroll horizontally.

The fold does exist, but it isn’t where you expect: it’s to the right, where only a small scroll-bar hints at additional content.

Google mentioned something about this, a couple months ago. They were wondering why few people were downloading Google Earth, and discovered that the Download button lay to the right of The Fold.

There’s an easy fix for the fold. All you have to do is create a fluid grid, or else design your site with collapseable structures that reshape the page on smaller screens.
Perhaps also media queries that style the page differently when the page width is too small.
All in all: Just don’t do fixed-width, least of all for 960 pixels. Those designs take up almost my entire screen.

I guess this post was about the fold. But as I’ve pointed out, the whole fold thing is just a sub-problem of bad design for small screens.

I’ve done some experimentation with pixels and ems, and there’s a post I need to make about the best ways to position and size things. You shouldn’t use pixels all the time, but you also shouldn’t use ems all the time. More on that later.

One final thought: The W3Schools compile lists of screen sizes of visitors, which is actually nearly worthless. I’d prefer they gathered the height and width of browser windows’ active areas, so we can have definitive evidence of screen sizes used in the wild. I’m certain that very few 1920×1200 monitors are used full-screen.

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