Fixed fashion

Slap your PayPal payment down for the latest issue of Design In Flight, the PDF magazine for design professionals and web developers.

Not only will you get to see the funniest cartoon ever by Kevin Cornell, you’ll also get to read a terrific article by Molly. It’s entitled The More Things Stay The Same, The More Things Change. It’s about trends in web design, a topic that fascinates me.

Finally, someone is talking about the elephant in the living room of web standards:

"Visual designers on the Web hunger for precision. It’s something we’ve long been denied, largely due to the fact that the way people access and use the Web is so variegated that no matter what we do design-wise, people are simply going to be looking at our designs using different resolutions, window sizing, and browsers."

"But sometime in the past two years, the reappearance of centered, fixed designs emerged - and from an intriguing place: the Web standards design community."

Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to go off on another rant about fixed versus liquid layout. But let me relate a little anecdote…

During my presentation with Andy at South by SouthWest, the subject of CSS design trends came up in the Q&A. While I was answering the question, I briefly touched on the fixed vs. liquid debate.

After the talk, someone came up to me and asked about this "liquid layout" technique I mentioned. He hadn’t heard of it. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige and I probably bored the poor guy senseless.

He asked if I could recommend any resources on the subject. I didn’t have much to offer him. Richard has some great posts on his blog but generally, it’s not something people talk about.

It made me wonder if perhaps I should be making more noise about the subject.

Y’see, I always assumed that the prevalence of fixed-width sites was the result of an informed decision. I imagined that designers weighed up the pros and cons of fixed and liquid design and then, after careful consideration, chose to build a site with a fixed width layout.

Now I’m beginning to think that this scenario is wishful thinking. Could it be that most designers are simply making the decision based on what everybody else is doing?

If so, that’s a disturbing thought. Decisions as important as that shouldn’t simply be the result of a sheep-like attitude.

This doesn’t just refer to fixed width layout. There’s nothing inherent in CSS that favours gradients and drop-shadows. Yet those techniques are hugely prevalent in CSS-based designs.

Step back and take a look at the bigger picture.

The wisdom of crowds is a nice idea but it can lead to some unfortunate results. The outbreak of pointless Flash intros on the Web was the result of clients and designers thinking, "everybody else has one, so should I".

It’s a scary thing to be the dissenting voice in a crowd. I’m not just talking about the high-profile historical figures like Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei. What if one person in the Seventies had simply said, "y’know these flared trousers that everyone’s wearing look pretty ridiculous to me"?

So maybe I should be making more noise. I could become the web standards equivalent of those loonies with the sandwich boards, declaiming loudly that the end is nigh.

Or perhaps, if the problem really is a "monkey see, monkey do" attitude, I should softly, softly, catchy monkey. I could speak softly and carry a big stick.

A big… liquid… stick.

For catching monkeys.

Um… I’ll get my sandwich board.

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