Just wrote an email close to an essay on the Hidden Tech mailing list

Recently on the Hidden Tech mailing list, someone asked what screen sizes/resolutions designers used while working. Someone replied:

I am not a *web designer*.  I am a computer programmer.  I am also an old-school UNIX user and until recently *never* maximized program windows.  Now I *needed* to maximize my Firefox window, since almost all web sites just do not work properly with a 600×800 window.

*I* think:

1) Web Designers need to have a ‘low-bandwidth’ Friday, where their bandwidth is cut back to dialup speeds one day a month, to give them a ‘feel’ for how the web sites they design (don’t) work for dial up users.

2) Web Designers need to have a ‘small screen’ Monday where they are forced to use smaller screens or run at a lower resolution, so they can see how their web sites look and feel on smaller screens.

I disagreed, and felt compelled to reply. This is what I said:

Currently, <1% of internet users are working on 800×600 screens. About 14% of users have 1024×768, which is why any designer with a modern focus on web design will do one of two things: use a grid system such as http://960.gs/ or http://978.gs/, which are optimal on 1024×768 or higher screens, or create responsive designs.

Let’s look at the first option. Using a 960 or 978 grid system, well over 97% of internet users will see the design as intended. Here comes the ideological debate — should, then, designers cater to the <3% of users who use smaller browsers? Let’s say there are a few people like you and I, who never maximize their browser windows. As I am on a higher screen resolution, this is rarely, if ever, an issue for me personally. However, should this be an issue for you? Should web designers be forced to constrain their designs to cater to a tiny minority, or should the minority be jolted into the present, where screen resolutions are almost always higher by default? One could argue that people using smaller screen resolutions, unless they are on mobile devices, etc., need to either evolve and adapt with the rest of the internet or get left behind.

One also might insist that by not designing for users on smaller screen resolutions, designers are catering to the tyranny of the majority. There is some validity in this. The ideal designer would be able to design for all users, regardless of screen resolutions. This leads into the second method modern web designers can use: responsive design. Responsive design has been gaining serious ground lately due to the expansion of mobile platforms. Why create a second site for mobile when you can use media queries to adapt? (For a good look at media queries, look here: http://mediaqueri.es/)

Using media queries, web builders can create sites that adapt to whatever screen resolution a user has. You can target within specific ranges — under 1024×768, for instance, or between 800×600 and 1024×768. It’s pretty excellent. However, how often does a web designer have the resources to be able to create responsive designs? Not all web designers are developers. Many designers just design. Many developers, front- and back-end, do not design at all. Many designers just are not given the time/budget to create upwards of four separate sets of mockups for various screen sizes. Many are not included, at all, in the development of the sites they design. When this is the case, how, then, can designers create responsive designs? Currently, the vast majority of people creating responsive designs are either web designer/developer hybrids (such as WordPress designer/developer Sara Cannon and web guru and writer Ethan Marcotte) or designers working at large firms with the resources to be able to pursue the extra time that goes into designing responsively. This is not necessarily something a freelance web designer, some of which have very little, if any development skills, can realistically pursue. While responsive design, I believe, is the future, it is not something that the vast majority of web designers currently have the resources to create.

As for dialup, well, that is rather unfortunate. However, as web technologies advance, the need for giant, uncompressed images is growing smaller. Sites are becoming faster as more people start looking into advanced caching methods, compression and minifying, and use web fonts instead of images of text. Google is now counting slow loading speeds against websites. Flash, a major slow-loader, is becoming ancient technology: a thing of the past. Even Adobe sees this — just look at Wallaby.  And really, it is not just the job of the designer to make sure a site loads quickly; it is also the job of the developer coding the site.

Of course, the web also has plenty of hacks who create sub-par work.

I believe that while your arguments are valid, in that in the ideal world, all web design would be quick and responsive, I think you are in a minority, falling behind the times and refusing to adapt while the web evolves around you. I would encourage you to explore new web technologies and reevaluate your opinions.

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