The Medium is the Mess
Stan has written a thoughtful piece called What’s Golden. Therein he examines the tried and trusted golden ratio and finds it very difficult to apply to the unpredictable dimensions of the web browser:
I’m not saying that using these principles is a dead end, what I am saying is their usefulness is questionable for web design. … I’m not in favor of restricting content to a scrolling box, or jumping through hoops to regulate the size of content, pages, and browser windows. These methods push the problems on the viewers.
Jackson takes on the truism that the ideal line length for print also applies to the web. In The Line Length Misconception he rebuffs this cut’n’dried solution, backing up his claims with research (and finishing up with a call for more research):
So should you really be limiting your line length to 75 characters? This research suggests you shouldn’t. Users will be perfectly fine reading longer columns of text. … There may be a good opportunity for some new and more thorough research in this area that could offer some valuable new insight.
…dark text against a light background … your line lengths … the x-height of your chosen typeface?
I, for one, welcome our rulebook-questioning overlords. Yes, we can learn from the many years of work that went into divining rules of thumb for other mediums but we should also remember that the web is not just a new and different medium; it’s an ever-changing, ever-evolving medium. That can be frustrating but I also find it incredibly exciting and liberating.
Now is the time for the medium of the web to outgrow its origins in the printed page. Not to abandon so much wisdom and experience, but to also chart its own course, where appropriate.
The web’s greatest strength, I believe, is often seen as a limitation, as a defect. It is the nature of the web to be flexible, and it should be our role as designers and developers to embrace this flexibility, and produce pages which, by being flexible, are accessible to all.
The journey begins by letting go of control, and becoming flexible.