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How Widescreen Monitors Affect Web Site Usability

written by: Ada Stoy•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 7/11/2010

Widescreen monitors require a modification to usability guidelines for web sites. What adjustments need to be made?

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    Widescreen Monitors and Web Pages

    Usability guidelines and screen resolutions have always made the life of a web designer miserable but if we look back in the past, there has never been time when so many and so different screen resolutions are in use. Maybe you remember with nostalgia the time when your major concern was that your site scales well on 480x640 and 800x600 screen resolutions. Well, now the resolutions you have to consider are times more!

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    Why Widescreen Monitors Are So Different in Terms of Usability

    Unlike all the other cases in history – i.e. the migration from 480x640 to 800x600 and from 800x600 to 1024x768 screen resolutions, the case now is different. Widescreens are different from standard screens not only because widescreen monitors offer more space but above all because they have different width to height proportions. While on standard screens the width to height ratio was 4:3, now it is 16:9.

    This difference in proportions automatically means that if your site is 100% wide, even if you somehow manage to make it shrink and expand as the resolution changes, it will get distorted either horizontally, or vertically. And when you add to this the really rich variety of widescreen sizes, you see that now it becomes merely impossible to design a site with the idea that it will fit 100% on all major screen resolutions.

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    Widescreen Monitors Are Already the Norm

    Widescreen monitors have been around for a couple of years and while in the beginning they were more an exotic piece of equipment designers and geeks only would go for, now when prices have fallen and widescreen monitors have become very affordable, they have become so popular that now they are becoming the norm. It is still possible to buy a good old 4:3 monitor but most of the monitors on the market are widescreen, which means that the percentage of 4:3 monitors will further go down the drain.

    Still, you can never expect that no 4:3 monitors will be used but the time when the critical mass of monitors is widescreen has come. According to W3C data, as of January 2009, 57% of users browse the Web on screens of over 1024x768. There isn't precise data how much of these 57% are using widescreens and at which resolutions but since most screens over 1024x768 are widescreens, it is a safe guess that half or more of all the users are using a widescreen of one size or another. Also, it is certain that the percentage of widescreen users will continue to grow and it is quite possible that by the end of 2009, at least 2/3 of all monitors are widescreen.

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    Should You Make Your Website Widescreen-Friendly?

    The fact that widescreen monitors have become the norm might be interpreted as pressure to make your website widescreen-friendly. If the current version of your website doesn't display well on a widescreen monitor, then you should really modify it as possible – i.e. before users start leaving your site due to poor usability design.

    There isn't much empirical research yet about how users interact with widescreens and use them for browsing but sometimes it is just common sense to figure out that a site is a usability disaster when viewed on a widescreen.

    On the other hand, your most important consideration if you should make your website widescreen-friendly or not is your audience and the resolutions they use. Widescreens might have become the norm but this doesn't necessarily mean your audience uses widescreens. If the majority of your visitors haven't switched to widescreens yet, then you don't have to hurry and redesign your site. However, if your users have adopted widescreens, Part 2 of these series will tell you more about what you should have in mind when redesigning your site for widescreen displays.

Widescreen Monitors and Usability

The mass adoption of widescreens is great but as far as usability is concerned, there are many things web designers should reconsider, if they want their sites to look professional.
  1. How Widescreen Monitors Affect Web Site Usability
  2. Usability Guidelines for Widescreen Monitors: Widescreen Design