At a recent conference, the pro's and con's of fixed, liquid, and elastic layout was the topic of a lively debate. I'm interested on what the uwebd members think, along with any good references. Here are a couple references I have:
In my opinion, it's not really about choosing one. I think each has its benefits. As long as it is compliant with coding standards, use which ever layout best suits the needs of the site and its audience.
I like Molly's answer - "it depends" ;) I don't see how you can take a stand without taking the rest of the design into consideration. I tend to prefer a stretchy layout with a max-width and min-width set, especially since IE6 use is declining. But I've made fixed-width sites because it made sense with that particular site & design.
I remember reading that the site visitor tends to prefer dynamic layout (but I can't remember where). Graphic designers prefer the static width because it doesn't take so much effort to design for something that stays the same size all the time.
I go back and forth on this issue. We use a fixed width at case.edu because:
1) Liquid is more complicated and we distribute templated designs to users of varying skills who might easily break a liquid layout. (They're actually regular HTML files rather than Dreamweaver templates.)
2) We want to ensure our maintainers don't build pages with line lengths that are too long and thus harder to read.
3) We try to limit the space available because people have a tendency of filling up whatever space is available. If they have large monitors they could really overcrowd a page not realize how messy it gets on smaller displays.
As you can see the bulk of these issues relate to the fact that our sites are distributed and build and maintained by people of varying skill levels. If I were working on one site alone and I was doing the coding then I'd base the decision on goals, content, etc.
If the site will be better in liquid layout, I do it...
If the site will be better in static layout, I do it...
I spend more time to do a liquid layout, but it is necessary sometimes. The studies of architeture information and users decides what I will do.
I'm really hot on base line grid design these days (maybe too much) but fluid width site design pretty much rules that out. The other issue I have with purely fluid design is that it tends to not look so good on my really gargantuan monitors :) But like others have said, it really all depends.
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Marj Esch is now a member of University Web Developers