The long debate
It looks like a well-worn chestnut is being resurrected in web design circles (if I may horribly mangle my metaphors).
Richard points out that Dan Cederholm and Doug Bowman have both recently altered their designs to be fixed-width rather than liquid. This was also mentioned recently on Whitespace where it was seized upon as a nail in the coffin of liquid designs.
I know I’m oversimplifying but it seems to me that a good liquid design seems to place more importance on a site’s audience rather than on its designer.
Fixed-width designs have, for me, an un-webby, print-world feel to them. They seem to be favoured by designers who have made the migration from print without quite grasping the fluid nature of the web as a medium.
This is as good a point as any to mention an oldie but goldie article at A List Apart called “A Dao of Web Design”:
“What I sense is a real tension between the web as we know it, and the web as it would be. It’s the tension between an existing medium, the printed page, and its child, the web.”
It seems to me that, all too often, designers make the decision to go with a fixed width design because it is the easier path to tread. I don’t deny that liquid design can be hard. To make a site that scales equally well to very wide as well as very narrow resolutions is quite a challenge.
That challenge is part of web design. I sometimes get the feeling that too much emphasis is placed on the “design” part and not enough on the “web”.
I’d be worried, though, if I saw this liquid layout reversal trend extend to established commercial or public information sites.