Widescreen Website Woes

This morning my mood really soured south when a project manager insisted a certain website should be designed for 1024x768px resolution.

We were talking about a standard content page: text to the left, small sidebar to the right. The site design is currently fixed for a 800x600px resolution. Modifications to the homepage of the site took that particular page to 1024px to better utilise the space available, but this really seemed unnecessary for the content pages.

So I downloaded a nice report on the subject of screen resolutions, searched the web and viewed statistics. and came to my conclusion: don’t go to 1024 if you don’t have a good reason for doing it. The prime argument is the optimal length of lines of text; if your line goes beyond ~500px or around 70 characters, readability declines dramatically.

Another reason for slimming your site seems to be most people with larger screens tend not use their browser maximised. All those browser statistics claiming the large amount of 1024px-users don’t seem to take this in to account (but please correct me if I’m wrong). I myself use an rss-reader sidebar, so my browser is never a full 1024x768px either. Mac users rarely use maximised browsers, as the workflow is much nicer with smaller windows.

So what to do if you want to go wide? The most common approach to 1024-design seems to be to have a sidebar with less-important content; extra information about the article you’re viewing, etc. This sidebar will fall off on smaller browser windows, but your visitors won’t miss much. The most well known example of this is the ESPN website.

A typical example of needlessly wide design is the Amsterdam website; they use the extra space to show a giant e-card picture on each page.

The best option is of course to go liquid. If implemented with enough care, this option would accommodate most screen sizes, and solve most resize issues. This technology is unfortunately still a bridge too far for most webdesign agencies (in The Netherlands).

So what are your ideas on going for 1024? Any recent experiences? Still designing for 800? Got a watertight liquid design methodology? Feel free to share!