A resolution to the worst of nightmares

Learn limitations, push it to the limit, but always keep an eye on the visitors

THERE IS one nightmare that will wake website designers wake up in a cold sweat screaming for their mothers. It's not browser incompatibility or browser safe colours, these issues are tricky but they have a certain reliability in their inconsistencies. No. The nightmare of which I speak is the dreaded screen resolution.

THERE IS one nightmare that will wake website designers wake up in a cold sweat screaming for their mothers. It's not browser incompatibility or browser safe colours, these issues are tricky but they have a certain reliability in their inconsistencies. No. The nightmare of which I speak is the dreaded screen resolution.

The problem is that there is no way of knowing what screen resolution (and what size display) the design will be viewed on. Too big, and lower resolutions will miss parts of it. Too small, and you waste valuable screen space. Learn the limitations of screen resolution, push them to the limit, but keep an eye on your audience.

What's it all about?

The "size" of screen is not so much limited by the physical dimensions of the display area but by the resolution at which that screen can display. Think of your screen as a grid made of tiny dots, called pixels. The more the screen can display, the higher the resolution.

But a monitor's resolution is not set in stone. Most can display at a variety of different resolutions, allowing the user to set it for their reading comfort. The physical dimension of the screen may be 15 inches but it might be able to display 640x480 or 800x600 pixels. A 21-inch monitor could also display 640x480 or 800x600 pixels but on a bigger monitor everything will look larger than with the same resolution on the smaller monitor. The higher the resolution, the more pixels get packed into the physical space accessible on screen so the larger monitor has more space and the size of each pixel is larger.

The resolutions that a computer screen can display depends on the type of monitor and the graphics capabilities.

Live screen space

For most web designers, height is not as vital as width. It's good to get the important information "above the fold" (the visible area of the screen when the page first loads), but vertical scrolling is okay but horizontal scrolling is taboo. Before beginning any web design decide which screen resolution the web page should fit comfortably (640x480 is the lowest common denominator and would ensure the widest audience). So, 640 pixels is the maximum width of the screen at that resolution, but this does not include the space taken up by the operating system and the browser window itself. The area you can use to display your site in the browser window is "the live space".

The Statistics

The visitor to your site can control the dimensions by resizing the browser window any way they want (unless you use JavaScript to force a width and/ or height). However, they are limited by the screen resolution which their monitor is set to.

StatMarket has been monitoring websites around the world and collecting data on screen resolutions (www.statmarket.com). It found just 13 per cent on 640x480, 54 per cent on 800x600 and 26 per cent on 1024x768. Seven per cent is either higher resolution monitors or lower resolution monitors, including PDAs and mobile phones.

StatMarket says that its data is based on a virtually random sampling of more than 32.5 million website users worldwide. Not only is 640x480 only a small part of the market, StatMarket says it has fallen almost 30 per cent in the past year, a downward trend that is likely to continue.

The writer is the author of 'DHTML For the World Wide Web'. If you have questions, you can find an archive of this column at www.webbedenvironments.com or send e-mails to: jason@webbedenvironments.com

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home