Growing up thoroughly doused in print media, I have expectations that pages are fixed widths. Locking things down to a minimum size tends to give some consistency to the job, and it certainly make things easier to design. Except, wait. What about clients who want flexible designs? (Often stated as “why doesn’t it fill my screen when I maximize my browser?!”)
Let’s use this design as an example. Insurance Know-How, in part, is about making the insurance pitch an approachable, comfortable conversation. Locking the site down to a specific width seems, well, counter-intuitive. Or, as my professor would have said back in Rhetoric of Web Design “the design isn’t reflexive of the content.”
There’s a part of me quaking. Ethan discusses fluid design in terms of maximum widths. The design can grow up to a certain point, and then the CSS tells it to stop. Awesome, because nothing irritates me more as a web-user than having to resize my browser window down just to have a line length I can tolerate for reading text. (Which is to say, I vote for readability over cool-factor every time.)
Where I start to shake, though, is minimums.
In the Insurance Know-How site, I can let the tabs grow or shrink. I can let the main content column overlap the imagery on the left to a certain extent (assuming I’ve placed Helena and her logo in the background so that the column migrates left as the columns shrink, unfettered by a fixed-width image). The menu items can get closer together.
It’s the what-if factor of taking it too small – way too small. Text starts flowing in directions that don’t work, or get cropped off. This is where I need to rein it in. Going fluid means getting away from that excuse box of “minimum screen size” but that minimum still factors in when I consider practicality.
I do not need to consider the what-if of a user viewing the site at 400px wide. Realistically, as long as the site is still presentable at 800×600 and I’ve given viewers that fluid flexibility on top, I’ve done my job well. Smaller than that says to me, at least in a North American context, that I’ve gotten into the handheld realm and I need to consider alternate layouts and CSS for that application.
Going fluid layout means I can address viewers who are not on the same technology adoption curve as my local market without holding my locals hostage to the constraints they thought were over 5 years ago.
Sounds win-win to me.