Regurgitating the chestnut

Andy Clarke has resurrected the always topical issue of fixed width vs. liquid layouts. This is something that also arose on the Brighton New Media mailing list last week.

What’s refreshing about Andy’s post is his honesty in admitting why he’d rather simply use fixed widths:

"I struggle very hard with letting go of fixed-widths and I am also sometimes guilty of convincing myself that a fixed-width is ‘OK’ because it ‘suits the content of the site’ better than fluid."

All too often, designers try to justify using a fixed width layout by falling back on weak arguments when the real issue is one of control. It’s nice to see a designer being honest with himself about his motivations.

I’ve since been chatting with Andy about the whole issue of making layouts fixed or liquid. My approach is to always make the layout liquid to begin with. Then, if circumstances (read: clients) truly dictate that a fixed width is required, the simple addition of one line to a stylesheet constrains the width:

body { width: 750px; }

Then, weeks later, sneak in during the night and serrupticiously delete that line. All in the name of freedom, of course.

Unsurprisingly, Andy’s post generated some lively debate which raised the wider issue of "who are we making web sites for?". My take on this issue is:

"While it’s true that you are building the web site for the client (in the sense that you are exchanging a service for money), the site is going to be *used* by someone completely different. Unless you’re building for a one-person intranet, the client is not the user. Web sites aren’t like paintings that we create for someone to put up on their own wall to be looked at: they are created for the world to use."

As web designers we should always be trying to please our clients but, more importantly, we should endevour to please the people who will be using the web sites we make. Simply saying "the client made me do it" will only stretch so far.

Yeah, I know: I’m coming across as pompously idealistic. Believe me, I know how much pragmatism is required in the world of web design. But always remember: the users are counting on you.

Now, let’s get out there and make some web sites. Hooah!

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