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  1. #51
    SitePoint Wizard megamanXplosion's Avatar
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    There are a couple of three-column sites that I think work. One is MSN.com, the other is Amazon.com. Amazon.com has a three-column layout and they seem to be doing okay.

    My thought was that my three columns serve distinctly different purposes: The left column is exclusively for a navigation menu, the center column is exclusively for the content of the individual page, and the right column is split between advertisements and links to material related to the center column.

    Owing to the short attention span of the average user, having links to related content close to the top of the content they're already looking at seems a good way to get them to go somewhere else on the site - is there research somewhere on the placement of such content that would conclusively suggest otherwise? For example - has it been shown that links at the bottom of an article generate more clicks than links in a right-side column?

    Not being argumentative, I just have difficult envisioning how I would organize my material into two columns, and still make it easy for my users to get where I want them to go. (Or where they want to go...)
    Well, it could be difficult to visualize how the information will be organized. I typically create a "family tree" type graph to help me organize information. Alot of the time, you can drastically reduce the amount of information that is shown on one page, just grouping things in broader categories can help streamline the navigation and leave more room down on the left navigation pane for advertisements. Sometimes, I might find a dropdown menu at the top to be the best solution and use a 480x60 banner running below the navigation bar. Whatever fulfills the purpose and can bring usability benefits, is an investigation which needs to be persued. I refer to 3-column layouts as "information overflow", they try to cram too much on one page when several pages would be a better decision, that's just my opinion on the matter though. I would suggest looking up some tutorials on the web about "information architecture", the tutorials will hopefully shed some light. If you want to improve usability for your site, there's alot of information on the web, but there are some specialized books like Defensive Design For The Web, which are definately a good read.

    I see what you're saying, and thanks for the tip on Opera - again, I agree that this is an option I need to experiment with for the future, probably even the near future - but at this point, it's down the list of stuff I need to direct attention to.
    I'd recommend playing with Opera for more than just a development tool, it's definately a good browser. It's undoubtedly the fastest desktop browser available and it's very productive. It's not necessarily a fool-proof solution, a little learning will be required, but it's very productive once you are familiar with the interface. The only downside is that it's ad-supported and it's 39 USD to remove the ad, but I don't think it's that big of a deal considering how much effort went behind the development of it, they deserve it. You can customize it however you want too, you can rearrange the toolbars and buttons to suit your needs, you can also edit INI files to change the menus (or add your own), keyboard shortcuts, etc. Try it out for a few weeks as a regular end user, I think you'll like it.

    I'd recommend learning CSS as soon as possible. You don't need to necessarily put it at top priority, but I think it is something which is very important, it can decrease the maintenance of a site by 10,000%, one file controls the display of the whole site so you can edit one file and change 10,000 documents' presentations at once. Not to mention the caching benefits, the same styling information will be reused on every page by the browser (no need to download it more than once during the whole time on a site), unlike the HTML method which requires downloading the styling information on every page load, you can expect to see a big boost in speed by switching to CSS for styling your pages. CSS tutorials are popular on the web, it's incredibly easy to look them up and start learning. I'll go ahead and provide a link to a good beginner's guide here for you...

    http://www.yourhtmlsource.com/styles...roduction.html

    Once you have learned enough CSS where you can comfortably change the way your site looks, feel free to reply here or PM me and I'll provide you with some information about targetting devices (handhelds, webTVs, printers, etc).

    My mistake. I was under the impression that different browsers came with their own little quirks. I didn't know these issues had been resolved - you're saying that basically, there are only two kinds of browsers, Explorer and everything else? So if it works in Netscape, it works in everything else (other than Explorer)? If true, that's great.
    Most of it does work the same in everything else. Of course, some of the browser developers caved in on Microsoft's monopoly on the market and had to change some things to enhance compatibilities with IE-only sites so there might be a few differences between the alternatives, but they are generally the same in rendering. The more experienced web designers here typically use Mozilla/Firefox/Opera to design their documents with and then work through Internet Explorer's bugs, it's simply easier once you know where IE fails.

    Agreed. I was operating from the premise that the 640x480 resolution originated in the days when a 13-inch monitor was considered "large". I don't know the real math, but 640x480 on a 13-inch monitor probably looks pretty darn close to 1024x768 on the 17 and 19-inch monitors that are common today.
    That's probably true, for you, but for end users the bigger the better when they have visual impairments (or like my parents, have a wireless mouse which likes to jitter making it a pain to hit a little checkbox). I have good eyesight, so I'm running 1024x768 on a 15", but my parents use 800x600 on theirs. If my sister didn't have contacts, she would probably switch hers to 640x480 because she has pretty bad eyesight.

    LOL - it's a "10-minute CSS job" for YOU, maybe. For me, it's a few weeks of learning what the heck CSS is, then rebuilding all my existing pages to use it. And again - I agree that it is definitely something I need to think about and learn. But I have a hunch I can get away with putting it off a few weeks.
    Yes, for me it is. It will probably hold true for you in just a short amount of time, CSS is so ridiculously easy and beneficial that you'll want to bang your head repeatedly on your desk, ESPECIALLY if you just got done redesigning your whole site with HTML tag-soup.

    You probably can wait a few weeks before delving into CSS, but the sooner the better.

  2. #52
    SitePoint Wizard megamanXplosion's Avatar
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    You are correct; the web is more like television than print.
    Gasp! Don't say that! It's neither, and it should never be either one

  3. #53
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    megaman;

    Thanks a ton for your help, and the links. I'll take a look through some tutorials over the weekend and see what shakes out.

    Thanks again.
    imusicians.com
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  4. #54
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    Quote Originally Posted by megamanXplosion
    Gasp! Don't say that! It's neither, and it should never be either one
    LOL - I only meant in terms of there being a screen.
    imusicians.com
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  5. #55
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    Okay, I've pretty much got the hang of CSS now; still hitting some bumps in the road, but it looks like I'll be able to tackle the reformatting of my pages sooner than I thought.

    While this might not be the right thread for this particular question, the question arises as a result of the discussion in this thread.

    Take a peek at my home page, which is still the "hostile" version designed at 800x600 (link is in my sig). Note the graphic that goes with the cover story, of the young girl. As I've mentioned in this thread before, my plan is to run a cover picture with each new piece of editorial content, much the same way MSN does.

    Any suggestions on how I would make that photo (as an example) work if that middle column were to expand from 375 pixels wide to some 575 (or more) pixels wide? Or has CSS rendered the practice of cropping photos and making them a key element in a layout obsolete as well?

    In case the desired effect escapes anyone, I want the photo to be as wide as the column of content that appears beneath it. The left and right columns are fixed widths, so that center column could be anywhere from about 250px wide (on the dreaded 640x480 display) to 1200px wide (in the case of a 1600x1200 display).

    That's the last hitch in this problem, beyond the time it will take to rebuild pages - any assistance would be appreciated.
    imusicians.com
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  6. #56
    SitePoint Wizard LeoWebDesign's Avatar
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    The trick there is to create each graphic so that it looks like it belongs there regardless of the width of the column. Why MUST the graphic be as wide as the content below it? A little white space never hurts :-)

    What I would do is make the background of each cover story graphic the same as the background color of that cell. Then center the graphic so it stays...well...centered. That way it will work no matter what.

    Your other option would be to create a graphic for each resolution and have each one display depending on the resoultion. That sounds like to much work for me though ;-)

  7. #57
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeoWebDesign
    The trick there is to create each graphic so that it looks like it belongs there regardless of the width of the column.
    Exactly. And since I'm leaving this section of my design up to the user, I'm not sure how to help them make it look the way it's supposed to.

    Why MUST the graphic be as wide as the content below it? A little white space never hurts :-)
    From a graphical perspective, it ties the two elements together. The eye assumes that because the two things are the same width, they must be somehow related.

    What I would do is make the background of each cover story graphic the same as the background color of that cell. Then center the graphic so it stays...well...centered. That way it will work no matter what.
    The only thing I don't love about that idea is that sometimes the images don't have background "colors" as such - some of my photos are of musicians in concert, and the background of the photo includes various diffused stage light effects. Additionally, some of the backgrounds I'll be using contain gradient fills, outer glow effects, etc - and cropping those graphics would leave an unprofessional "edge" to the spot where the graphic meets the background. The photo that's on my home page today is unusual in that it's one of the very few I'm likely to use that has a white background.

    This is the issue I have with putting the user in control of how my product appears. The photos are an integral part of the layout, and if I don't control where they appear and how they look, it's an issue. I've spent a great deal of time working out how the site is going to look; and I didn't do it so that Gus in Nebraska could instead make it look however he wants it to.

    I like your idea of different versions of the same graphic to be used at different resolutions, but thanks to people with sidebars, and those who believe that they should be able to smoothly change their browser window size without negatively impacting my design, I couldn't possibly anticipate every browser window size that will ever visit the page.

    I appreciate the suggestions, Matt, but is there another option?
    imusicians.com
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  8. #58
    SitePoint Wizard LeoWebDesign's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imusicians
    Exactly. And since I'm leaving this section of my design up to the user, I'm not sure how to help them make it look the way it's supposed to.



    From a graphical perspective, it ties the two elements together. The eye assumes that because the two things are the same width, they must be somehow related.



    The only thing I don't love about that idea is that sometimes the images don't have background "colors" as such - some of my photos are of musicians in concert, and the background of the photo includes various diffused stage light effects. Additionally, some of the backgrounds I'll be using contain gradient fills, outer glow effects, etc - and cropping those graphics would leave an unprofessional "edge" to the spot where the graphic meets the background. The photo that's on my home page today is unusual in that it's one of the very few I'm likely to use that has a white background.

    This is the issue I have with putting the user in control of how my product appears. The photos are an integral part of the layout, and if I don't control where they appear and how they look, it's an issue. I've spent a great deal of time working out how the site is going to look; and I didn't do it so that Gus in Nebraska could instead make it look however he wants it to.

    I like your idea of different versions of the same graphic to be used at different resolutions, but thanks to people with sidebars, and those who believe that they should be able to smoothly change their browser window size without negatively impacting my design, I couldn't possibly anticipate every browser window size that will ever visit the page.

    I appreciate the suggestions, Matt, but is there another option?
    I would try putting a subtle graphic background in the cell. Something like thin diagonal grey lines would look good. That acts like a fill, fills up the space regardless of size (tiles) and ties everything together. You could also change the background graphic to go well with each photo as needed.

  9. #59
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    Would another viable option be to design the graphics to be far larger than I will ever need them (say 1200px), and use them as a background image in a DIV?

    If I was to keep everything in the image to the left or right (as necessary), then I would know that whatever resolution the user was at, they'd at least be seeing the part of the image that I wanted them to see.

    Just thinking out loud.
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  10. #60
    I am obstructing justice. bronze trophy fatnewt's Avatar
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    That would work as long as the image makes sense if only some of it is showing.

    Of course the whole image would load - presenting more load time even if there's no benefit for it... so make sure it's well compressed.
    Colin Temple [twitter: @cailean]
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  11. #61
    SitePoint Wizard megamanXplosion's Avatar
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    I totally forgot about this thread

    http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-CSS2/media.html

    There's some information on how to target different devices (projectors, screens, printers, etc).

    Just a side-note: The opera browser uses the projection media for fullscreen mode (it has slide-show capabilities, OperaShow), so you might need to declare screen AND projection media for Opera to make it behave like you expect it to. If you do not tell Opera to use a projection media then fullscreen mode will be plain-text, so make sure you use both.

  12. #62
    SitePoint Wizard DougBTX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by megamanXplosion
    The more experienced web designers here typically use Mozilla/Firefox/Opera to design their documents with and then work through Internet Explorer's bugs, it's simply easier once you know where IE fails.
    I take a slightly different route. I find that I am much better at predicting the behaviour of the standards compliant browsers than IE. I have a strong sense of what will and what won't work in Moz/FF/Opera. Because of this, I tend to code in IE, because I know the page will work in FF/Moz/Opera.

    Naturally there are some times when I write "risky" code, which I feel I have to check in the standards browsers as I write it, but 80% of the time I will only check the page once it is finished.

    It almost feels like comming full circle. Beginners tend to code in IE first because it is more forgiving of bad code, more experienced designers code in the standards browsers first because they know that they can always fix things up in IE later, but now I can write good code and the need to check every second line in multiple browsers is gone it is best to code in the least reliable browser first.

    This way also cuts down on the number of hacks needed quite substantially.

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  13. #63
    Are You There? KDesigns's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imusicians
    Well then here's the dumb question:

    If we're supposed to design for device independence, what do I do when an advertiser wants to buy a 760x80 (or whatever size) banner ad?

    That won't fit on a 320x240 display, or a 640x480 - so should I not sell that ad size?
    Although I think your comment may be more of a sarcastic nature, I'm going to take it literally.

    Of course you can sell that space still. I use my Ipaq when I'm on the road and don't want to lug my laptop around. I browse the web quite often. Using the default IE install with the PocketPC there would just be a horizontal scrollbar where the ad is.

    However, I use a browswer called NetFront (which I love because it has tabbed browsing and CSS support). It has a SmartFit wrapper that automatically adjusts a website in order to fit into my Ipaq with no horizontal scrollbars. That 760x80 ad of yours would then be shrunk to my screen width. Would I see what it said?? Heck no! But I'm sure most of your clicks on that banner would probably come from those actually surfing on the web.
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  14. #64
    SitePoint Enthusiast Justice's Avatar
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    I, along with a lot people, originally got a large monitor so that I could multitask easier. It's very rare that I browse the internet with my browser maximized, so even though X% of your visitors may be using a higher resolution, don't assume that their browsers are always maximized.

    800 x 600 is plenty of space for delivering any web content in an eye-grabbing and efficient manner. Designing with this limit will also keep your pages loading quicker than 1024x768 (assuming you're using larger graphics and tables to fill the horizontal space).
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  15. #65
    SitePoint Guru momos's Avatar
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    Seems like everyone is leaving out the new wide screens, they're big in Belgium...

  16. #66
    SitePoint Zealot Digitalman's Avatar
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    You can design in a bigger size just make sure the important thinks are in the view of the 800x600 on the right side you can put thinks that are not so important

  17. #67
    Yugo full of anvils bronze trophy hillsy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imusicians
    My point is that consumers adapt to what the content provider dictates. And that's true in every form of entertainment or information there is - except the internet. And on the internet, we apparently have no trouble handing complete control over how our product looks to the whims of the users.
    This may be a bit of a dead issue now, but I just wanted to note that one huge difference is that you've paid $900 for your television. You've driven to the movie theatre, bought a ticket, pushed past the fat guy in the third row and sat down. You've flown all the way to Paris to look at the Mona Lisa. There's effort involved.

    On the web, you've clicked into a site. Takes you all of 0.5 seconds to click out again if you don't like it. The fact of the matter is, people are much, much less likely to put up with anything they don't like (or that gets in their way) online. So the onus falls back on the developer or the administrator to make sure they're getting exactly what they want.

    I build and run intranets. We often get users who forget their password, try to login a few times and then leave, never to return. 99.9% of the time they don't bother contacting us to get their password reset. Unpalatable fact is, people expect things to work their way and if it doesn't they'll go elsewhere. Even on an intranet where there really isn't any "elsewhere".

    So I've taken to trawling through the logfiles and contacting any users who are having problems. Should I have to? No. Do I have to? Yes. It's all about making things easy for the user.
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  18. #68
    Are You There? KDesigns's Avatar
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    Take a look at FoxNews.com. The main part of the site is setup for 8x6 but they have a far right column with secondary links and such. I think it's a pretty clever approach.
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    Also, don't forget that even though your stats might say 1024 or higher, a lot of people at higher resolutions use small boxes to view lots of sites at the same time.

    I work at a very high res on my main machine, but I have 4 sometimes 5 active windows and can view them all at once... So what I am actually viewing is your site in about an 800 width even though I use a 1600 res.

    Hope I've made sense.

  20. #70
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    Argh. You've made perfect sense.

    Finally. Someone who understands. Thank God.

    So in other words, there's NOTHING wrong with designing a fixed-size page layout, if that's what my site calls for?

    I can design an 8x6 page without being put on some universal list of "axis of evil" web designers?

    If that's the case, I thank you. And my apologies for dragging this thread out so long while others made it sound like an 8x6 design was somehow akin to being a Nazi.

    If that's not the case, then feel free to whack me over the head with something heavy.

    However, my sense is that there's no hard fast rule, there's only the way a very small portion of the general population *wants* it to be.
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    SitePoint Wizard siteguru's Avatar
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    Then of course there's also the Web Accessibility Initiative to consider, plus Section 508 and other equivalent standards.
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  22. #72
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    Quote Originally Posted by imusicians
    So in other words, there's NOTHING wrong with designing a fixed-size page layout, if that's what my site calls for?
    yes, there is

    if the user has a browser window that isn't wide enough to hold your fixed design, then there will be a horizontal scrollbar

    you are assuming that the user will quite happily maximize the browser window and/or close all sidebars, i.e. change their browsing habits to accommodate your design, rather than the other way around

    normally i would call this (forcing the user to maximize the window to avoid the horizontal scrollbar) user-hostile, but i won't, this time, so as not to offend you



    p.s. you broke Godwin's Law, so this thread is now over

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  23. #73
    Yugo full of anvils bronze trophy hillsy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by r937
    you are assuming that the user will quite happily maximize the browser window and/or close all sidebars, i.e. change their browsing habits to accommodate your design, rather than the other way around
    And as we know (and as I was at great pains to try and point out earlier) assumption in these cases is the mother of all....

    ...well, you know

    Quote Originally Posted by imusicians
    I can design an 8x6 page without being put on some universal list of "axis of evil" web designers?
    Chill a little. No-one's said anything about axis of evil web designers. However this is a web design forum, there are some people here who've been doing it a while, there are certain things regarded as "best practice", and you asked for input. You're getting input - it's fairly commonly accepted that fixed width designs are a Bad Thing(tm)

    My input would be that you run the risk of alienating a percentage of your user base if you do a fixed-width design. And you alienate the user at your peril. They'll leave and they probably won't be back.

    My input would also be you're getting good advice here. You can choose to ignore it if you want, but stop taking it as some sort of criticism.
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  24. #74
    SitePoint Evangelist IJoeR's Avatar
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    I think the best practice is you should always code so that the highest number of people can enjoy your website. This means catering to people with lower resolution displays.

    I'd say 23% is a huge number and i would definitely keep my site to fit 800x600. I wouldn't change a thing. Put it these terms. Lets say you get 1 Million Visitors to your website, that would be 230,000 visitors that need a 800x600 friendly site. Thats a huge number. If you are planning on selling things on your website then that 230,000 potential sales that you might otherwise lose if you redesign the site for 1024x768 only.

    The other suggestions here are very good, making that center content area a percentage might solve part of the problem.

  25. #75
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    Quote Originally Posted by IJoeR
    I think the best practice is you should always code so that the highest number of people can enjoy your website. This means catering to people with lower resolution displays.

    I'd say 23% is a huge number and i would definitely keep my site to fit 800x600. I wouldn't change a thing. Put it these terms. Lets say you get 1 Million Visitors to your website, that would be 230,000 visitors that need a 800x600 friendly site. Thats a huge number. If you are planning on selling things on your website then that 230,000 potential sales that you might otherwise lose if you redesign the site for 1024x768 only.

    The other suggestions here are very good, making that center content area a percentage might solve part of the problem.
    Thanks. And thanks for the suggestion. I guess it's like anything else that involves serving a customer base.

    If you open a store, and you only open it three hours a day, with no access for the handicapped, and you don't take credit cards, and you don't put a sign outside so people know where it is, then you risk saying goodbye to a variety of customers. On the other hand, it's possibile to have a store under those circumstances and be phenomenally successful.

    I'm sure somewhere there's an art gallery that's losing patrons because they can't show a version of the Mona Lisa where Mona is a naked blonde.
    imusicians.com
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