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Web Design Choice of Fixed Width vs Liquid Layouts

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By: Semul Johnson

If you have worked long enough for your web design company, or if you have tried designing a site on your own, you should already know by now that there are two kinds of web page layouts that you can choose from. Fixed width layouts are those wherein the width of the entire web page is set at a specific value, while liquid layouts are those wherein the width is flexible depending on how wide the online visitor's browser is. Choosing between these two layout methods can be a little difficult for a web designer, as each has its own benefits and deficiencies. Let us look through each and discover everything you need to know for you to make the right choice.

Fixed width layouts allow you to start with a specific size that you set. This allows you better and direct control so that you know how your page will look like, at least most of the time. They work best if you work with print backgrounds, as they allow for minute adjustments in the layout without inconsistencies across browsers and operating systems. On the other hand, with a liquid layout, you base the layout on a percentage of the browser's current window size. Liquid layouts allows for an efficient use of space given by any browser window or screen resolution. They are often used by web designers who want to get as much information across in a very limited space. Your web design company may ask you to choose one from the other depending on the needs of your client.

What is at stake for you and for your web design company when you choose between these two windows? Well, the method you choose has a large bearing not only on the final site design and aesthetics, but will also affect the ability of your online visitors to scan through the contents of your site. Furthermore, the layout can affect the ease, by which readers will find what they are looking for in the page, and can also reinforce or ruin your marketing efforts in the website. Thus, your web design company may stress the importance of choosing the right one depending on the message that the client wants to communicate across.

The Web Design Benefits and the Drawbacks

To help you and your web design company to decide on which to use, I will present the benefits and the drawbacks for each type of layout.

Fixed Width Layout

The web design Benefits

  1. Allows you to come up with pages that look entirely identical no matter who is browsing and what type of browser is being used.
  2. Elements such as images and graphics will not tend to overpower the text contents especially in smaller monitors.
  3. No matter how wide the visitor’s browser is, the scan length will not be affected when there are large segments of text.

The web design Drawbacks

  1. They will cause horizontal scrolling in small browser windows. Users generally dislike having to scroll horizontally.
  2. Fixed width layouts usually result to large coverage of whitespace in large monitors such that there is a waste of unused space, and further vertical scrolling may be needed than necessary.
  3. This layout can not deal with font size changes quite well. A small increase in the font may be tolerated, but larger increases can not be handled well that your overall layout may become compromised.

Liquid Width Layouts

The Web Design Benefits

  1. This layout can contract and expand to fill in all available space on the page.
  2. All available space is used up, thereby allowing you to display as much content as you need to in larger monitors, yet still remain viewable on smaller ones.
  3. This layout can provide you consistency in relative widths, therefore allowing your page to respond dynamically to restrictions and specifications that may be imposed by your client, such as larger font sizes.

The Web Design Drawbacks

  1. Liquid layouts do not offer precise control over the page width and the elements on the page.
  2. This layout may result to columns in the text which are either too wide for comfortable scanning, or too small for the text to show up very clearly.
  3. Liquid layouts tend to have problems when dealing with elements in the page which has fixed width (i.e. image and graphics). If the column does not have enough space, some browsers may increase the column width, and all other elements in your page may not be in the proper order.

Many designers usually go for the mixed approach. You web design company may also suggest you to use both layouts depending on the page and the part of the site you are making. You can, for example, set your main columns to fixed width but make your side columns, headers and footers more flexible. With time and experience, you will eventually learn how to make the most out of the features of each layout type to come up with an optimized site.

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