|ISSUE 28||News & opinion | January 2002 | updated 1/15/02|
|Last month's Comment||Comment Archive (all previous)|
tyranny of 1024 x 768
When I'm visiting your website I get really annoyed when you insist: "Our site requires Internet Explorer 5, high-speed connection, 1024 x 768 monitor resolution."
Why? I already use I.E. 5 so that's not a problem. But I don't have a high-speed connection, and I'm too busy to arrange for one to view your site (unless you're going to pay for my upgrade). I can easily set my monitor to 1024 x 768, but I prefer 800 by 600, thankyouverymuch.
And you know what? I think it's your job to make your
site work for me, not the other way around.
What's going on?
One of the distinctive, almost revolutionary, features
of the Web is that it's intended to be a universal medium, available to
anyone, using any kind of computer, anywhere, anytime. Despite the fun
we have with its extra bells and whistles, with downloading mp3s and watching
videos, this is still one of its greatest strengths.
But many designers are control freaks (I know should know, I am one). They want everything to look "perfect." In the world of print this is relatively easy, since page sizes and colors are not subject to user control. You can't change the size or the font on a printed page. The designer gets to decide all those issues, and good ones spend a lot of time agonizing over the details. As a user/reader you may not be aware of those decisions, you just read the book. Some designer made lots and lots of choices in an attempt to make it readable, but you have no choices other than to read it or put it down.
But reading a book isn't the same as using the Internet. That may seem obvious, but we haven't really grasped how important the difference is. The simple fact that we refer to web "pages" indicates that we still don't quite get it. We haven't even figured out what to call the things we create.
The "designer decides everything" approach, so important in print media, doesn't belong on the web, yet breaking with that mindset isn't easy. Designers still like to control how things look, to the extent that some feel it necessary to instruct you on exactly which browser you should use, the plug-ins you should install, and the screen resolution you should set your monitor to.
But rather than fighting about the wisdom of designing for particular browsers and screen sizes, let me suggest a comparison for you to consider.
Would you be impressed with Francis Ford Coppola's artistic vision? Or would you be angry at his arrogance?
Or maybe you bought the DVD to watch on a flight from
New York to LA. If the director insisted that you see the movie only as
he intended it to be seen, you'd have a long, dull flight. You'd probably
be outraged that the director, producer, and distributor cavalierly assumed
you'd use only their choice of equipment to view the movie. And you'd
probably avoid any movie from the same director or distributor in the
future. With good reason.
As web designers we can learn something from television, radio, and movies: we need to understand the medium and technology to make things work on as wide a range of devices as possible, from big screen TVs to a black & white Watchman, from a $5,000 home stereo to a $15 Walkman.
Our job is to make things work for people, not to force them to adapt to our wishes. The sooner we learn this lesson, the sooner web design will move in truly unique and exciting directions. It's time to leave the assumptions and practices of print world behind.
-Al Wasco, January 10, 2002
Before you email me to point this out, I realize that with this site I've only partly followed my own advice. Much of the design is flexible and will resize to fit different screen sizes, but font sizes are fixed in pixels, causing a problem for people who want/need larger type. This will change with my next major redesign. I never said it would be easy.
Try a Google
search to see just how common this practice is:
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