It’s too wide! Or, the problems of not actually knowing how your users actually use web browsers

Published on 7 March 2008 in , , , ,

Now I must say I do like the visual look and feel of the new BBC homepage, but it gives me yet again, another infuriating problem. It’s the browser window size. I just don’t want my browser window set that wide. I’m comfortable with it being 800-850 pixels wide. It’s a good size – it’s comfortable to use.

This isn’t a BBC-only problem of course – web pages are getting wider all the time and across the industry. Auntie’s been “behind” on screen sizes for years. But nothing, not one thing, has made a justifiable reason to me as to why I should disrupt my browsing comfort.

I should say for me, it’s not even a screensize issue – at work I have a monitor set to 1600×1200. I have loads of screen real estate. And that’s great for some applications like Visio where you need all the space you can get. However when it comes to reading and writing (I have Word open a similar width to my web browser) well I like things narrow. It’s easier to read – more comfortable on my eyes that way.

Part of the problem is that decisions on website width are always made using two factors – available screen resolution in use and the asumption that everyone likes their web browser maximised.

Indeed, I look at Google Analytics for my own website, and it tells me lots of stats on just that – apparently 38.63% of people viewing this website will be using a screen resolution of 1024×768 – closely followed by 18% who are on 1280×1024. (It also tells me that there’s still 21 visitors who are browsing at 320×396�)

Which is great – I know what I can use. But I don’t actually know what my users actually use. And that’s a fundamental flaw. I have no idea whether people view websites with their browser maximised, or whether it’s in a short fat strip at the bottom of the screen.

Such data could be made available – and it’s available with a few simple pieces of JavaScript. Of course the presentation of the data would have to be thought abour – perhaps displayed in ranges of say 100px for both width and height – but it could be done easily enough. And it would arm developers and designers with much better information about how their decisions affect their users.

Of course if every website adapted to the preferences of their users (or at very least for me, centered their window in the browser so that a site which is narrower than the window size, at least looks neater) we’d have the best of both worlds. It can be done. Shame it mostly isn’t.