Stretchy layouts are not good, yet every Ã¼ber techie who has a 20 inch or larger monitor wants web sites to stretch when they open their browser to the width of the monitor. Well maybe not every Ã¼ber techie wants stretchy layouts, but enough that comment on design related message boards that it really irks me. Why is it bad, because paragraphs that span exceedingly long widths are difficult to read. This is of course assuming they are long enough to still take several lines. A single line of text is not hard to read. And, of course, if the site is only images or video, then it is not as much an issue if at all.
So as I was writing this opinion I got to really thinking about why I don’t want stretchy layouts. Perhaps it stems from having a background in print design. Now when I transitioned from print to web design I made a very conscious decision to not let print conventions and limitations affect my web design. This process involved pretty much always looking at web things as completely new. As the web is not the same as print (and it is not the same as TV or radio). One of the mistakes I often see is print design being poorly repurposed on the web. This was true in the early days when corporate websites were often the company brochure and logo slapped up on the web site. You still see this today as there are still many old school marketers who do not understand that making something a pdf does not necessarily make it suitable for the web. I still see print designs being webified far too much, but companies have woken up to the fact that the web can do more.
Certainly there are some visual design principles that apply to the web as well as they do to print. Things like alignment, relationship, repetition, and contrast (robin williams uses proximity in place of relationship, but I think relationship is better – that’s another story) play a role in almost any design discipline. Interior design, product design, even food preparation all use these visual concepts to create aesthetically appealing products.
Sorry, where was I, oh yeah, stretchy is bad. Except for some possible exceptions… And well maybe it is a print convention that I still cling to. I typically scoff at people who say reading lots of text on a monitor is terrible. Yeah it is for those who grew up reading paper. Today’s generation is growing up reading on the monitor. It is my opinion that the days of the printed newspaper are almost gone. This from a guy who was newspaper delivery boy when he was 12. Don’t get me wrong I think printed reading will still exist just not the newspaper in its current form. Side tracked again, sorry.
Back to stretchy, I have to think that if people want to read stretched out paragraphs of text, let them. Of course I am not changing my current designs, but I do feel the unfettering of yet another print paradigm that does not or may not apply to the web. I may change my mind, but for now I think I’ll put this in the print only corner. The only time that a web designer should consider not allowing a layout to expand to fill a user’s desired screen width is when there is a long text article. They may see a way to make it so the layout creates multiple columns (instead of a single super wide column). Or allow the footer or other content wrap up. As always with the medium of the web, the possibilities are intriguing.