Maybe Fixed Width is Better?

Greg Edwards has posted an interesting piece of research, tracking where people actually look on a couple of different CSS Zen Garden designs.

It’s a good comparison, because the content is exactly the same – it’s just has different visual treatment.

And the first thing I noticed is that the wider column on the original design was read less than the narrower column on design 145. Is this a convincing argument for fixed width designs? I think it’s hard to ignore – it will be interesting to see the results of future comparisons!

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3 thoughts on “Maybe Fixed Width is Better?

  1. It’s a fascinating analysis, and an equally fascinating service/procedure — but I’m not too sure about jumping to the conclusion that it’s the fixed-width layout that does it. I would expect that there are a number of factors at work, the most obvious being the amount of contrast. The 001 design is very pastel, inviting the viewer to absorb the background images rather than read the content.

    The 145 design is, apart from the header image, very visually simple, so the eyes gravitate to the content of the page rather than its chrome.

    Both are legitimate, but it’s a better commentary on page-purpose than anything else. Some pages need to focus on content, some need to focus on design.

  2. I was thinking along the same lines when I read it, but on reflection I think that the results argue in favour text being placed in columns, not necessarily of fixed width, but of word width. It says people started to read and then gave up, I think the text needs to wrap to the next line more quickly, otherwise readers loose their place. Of course this is what newspapers have been doing for years, I’m a believer in translating that formatting model to the web using EM defined width, rather than static pixel ‘fixed’ widths – certainly an interesting piece of research 🙂

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