February 9, 2007 in Web Usability

Elastic Layouts Dead?

I have had to question my view on laying out design’s with elastic layouts using the measurement Em’s, Elastic websites that zoom in or out with the text size have always been somewhat of the Holy Grail for me as far as layouts are concerned, and I think a lot of web designers agree with me. But is the extra torment and toil to make your design’s elastic worth the hassle if web browsers including Internet Explorer are supporting the new zoom feature?

IE’s Zoom Feature

With the launch of IE7 finally we have a version of IE that mostly behaves itself, I find I hardly need to change any CSS to make a template display properly and the guys at Microsoft have truly done a great job in comparison to IE6. It also looks sleeker and has built in RSS. The feature that scares the pants of me and threatens our very Holy Grail of layouts is their new Zoom feature. The feature can be activated much like standards based web browsers by hitting CTRL and the plus (+) button to increase zoom, and CTRL (-) to decrease the zoom, It appears to adjust the zoom in intervals of 10% and you can also manually pick a zoom percentage from the menu.

Whys that Scary?

The percentage of users who will be using IE7 is about to dramatically increase further due to the launch of Vista. This means that IE7 will be the dominant browser if it isn’t already and that average Joe now has built in Zoom features. Let me point one thing out at this point all measurement types including pixels and em’s work with IE’s Zoom feature, So from now on to the majority of users out there it doesn’t make a difference whether we use pixels, percentages or em’s to layout.

Web developer pride

It just doesn’t seem to matter aside from bragging rights to other web developers whether we produce elastic layouts anymore, and we also all know that its a lot easier to layout in a absolute measurement type such as pixels rather than a relative such as em’s. So should we bother with elastic anymore? I am starting to think its now not worth it and from a usability perspective I always think the more power the browser has the better.

Keep it in the browser

Taking that point a little further I believe we have a taste of what the future brings from the software giant, giving the browser more power has finally cracked that annoying problem some web designers have of “textus littiless”. I have perfect vision and yet a lot of websites I visit I have to bump up the text size just to aid my reading, one website that I frequent and probably most designers do also is the mighty A list Apart, which has ridiculously small text size, which I am sure does print out fine, but on my 2 PC screens is near unreadable and this is the website with probably the best content from the most well established names in our domain.

I do think the more power the browser has the better, I actually think search and contact details should be presented through the browser and I think this has already started to happen with future versions of IE promising a in built-in site search function, I think this is fab as every user will know exactly how to search every website. I know this is the thinking behind Micro-formats such as the H-Card, a way of having contact details for each website you visit in one place, well I could go on about this, but I’ll save this discussion for another article.

So Elastic is dead?

This truly is a question I want to ask you?, I have tried to explore where I stand on this matter and whether or not to just start laying out my templates in pixels because its just so much easier and it does seem that elastic layouts may have just died or they have at least suffered a broken neck as the ROI now seems not worth the extra workload.

About Anthony

Anthony Brewitt is Design Bit, has been for years - he's an experienced WordPress Designer, and Muggle-born Marketing Philosopher. Let’s talk about your website; your marketing, blog design, and that cool new mobile web thingy. Contact Anthony

13 Responses to Elastic Layouts Dead?

  1. @Anthony – I’ve always found elastic layouts to me more of a gimmick/exhibition-of-abilities than a widely used feature. Sure its nice and impressive to other developers, but how many people atually use the ability on a daily basis, or even know its there. I know a lot of my friends didnt even know that ‘CTRL’+’+’ could make text bigger in there browser.

    @Mozilla – when’s Firefox getting a cool zoom feature?

  2. @Anthony
    Adapting designs fail on the fact that the html layout engines aren’t made to scale all things given a chance. Zoom is great, but not the ulimate solution. When somebody looks at something in 20em, it tells us he’s got a rather interesting screen, that probably is very small or very big. To cater to these kind of differences you need different layouts altogether, and other information concepts. So since people run between 800×600 – 1600×1200 these days, it’s comperatively easy to make a design that works great also in proportion. And if they don’t like that, offer them a different stylesheet (via stylesheet switch) that makes things look good too if they have 4em or 0.25em.

    But then, I’m also trough with the portal layout three-columns widgety thing, like completely. I think it’s the son of satan and horrible user-interface design, and the actual reason why 2-column centercontent designs have become so fashionable these days.

    I’m an extremists, web partisan developer guerilla, what can I say? πŸ™‚

  3. Anthony

    Thanks for the comments,

    @Vinny, Good points, but elastic design does have its uses, in trying to make the website layout accessible as possible by using a relative measurment type, rather than fixed, the content area cross platform should be the width of the screen no matter what res your screen runs at. You are also quite right there is no doubt that elastic designs are what I called “bragging rights” for web designers. πŸ™‚ Thanks for feedback.

    @Florian, a good argument and it does seem a styleswitcher or theme switch is the way forward, the best answer to this would be a detection script that can pick a stylesheet upon what res the user is on. I have moved off topic conversation to a more appropriate place πŸ™‚ Thanks for feedback.

    @Mozilla, I back Vinny, add a Zoom!

  4. Ms Mouse

    I used to love Opera but got so fed up with bumping in to sites that demanded IE that I switched to Firefox, because there are Firefox extensions that allow you to trick websites into thinking that you are using IE if they demand IE.

    I have looked at IE7 and it is way better than IE6 but still not a patch on Firefox or Opera.

    Please excuse my non-technical language, and slippery grasp on issues to do with browser compatibility, but … what would be really good would be a browser that had all the whizzo features of the likes of Firefox, Opera etc. and could also automatically detect bits of code that, as I understand it, have to be written in non-standard ways to accommodate IE and automatically adjust for them.

    What would be even better in terms of accessibility would be doing away with the stark, staring madness of features like having to select in order to log in! IT professionals have explained to me, in all seriousness, with that special patronising tone that IT professionals adopt in when talking to mere users, that this is an “important security feature”. Well yes, of course it is, if your biggest security threat is some sort of evil genius who happens to have only one hand or a significant upper limb impairment (fer chrisssake!!!)

    As an evil genius with a significant upper limb impairment, I naturally find the thoughtless provision of this “security feature” and its mindless activation by corporate IT professionals … extremely irritating.

  5. Ms Mouse

    The missing bit in the post above is CTL+ALT+DEL, ie.

    “What would be even better in terms of accessibility would be doing away with the stark, staring madness of features like having to select CTL+ALT+DEL in order to log in!”

    (Hope those characters don’t get eaten up and disappear this time).

  6. Anthony

    @Ms Mouse: Sounds like your talking about conditional comments for IE, and yes it would be nice without them! Sounds like this rant is from personal experience πŸ™‚ I thankfully have not come across logging in in that way, I feel for you.

  7. Very interesting topic, it’s hard to tell. Browser keep changing and so will the way we design for them.

  8. It is often subjected to a matter of change. With the upgraded browsers being let out quite often these days!

  9. I’ve never been a fan of elastic layouts, just look at play.com on 1920×1200 at full screen. F*@%ing awful.

  10. The issue is, even when supported and not hidden by the web browsers, you can be sure Microsoft is going to implement it poorly. It’s their status quo. So still there is the need to maintain control with your own elastic code as it were.

  11. @Evan: I’ve just looked at play.com and I don’t see the awfulness you speak of. Although I tried it at 1280×1800, I can see that the main content area expands and shrinks nicely. But why would you go with full screen at such a high resolution anyway? I don’t any websites which might look good at 1920×1200, unless they were specifically designed for that resolution. But even that wouldn’t work unless the user always maximised their browser, which can’t be relied upon.

  12. Ivan – that’s precisely what I’m talking about. Regardless of what res I’m looking at a site in, it should be consistent. An elastic site is not ideal as if a customer is looking at 1920×1200 the site blows out hugely.

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