Let’s face it: The jump from developing for 800×600 to 1024×n is inevitable; not only inevitable, but just around the corner, too. Many of you are considering the jump. Some of you have already leaped. I suspect that some time in 2007 most of us will knock out comps optimized for 1024px resolution rather than 800px if we’re not doing so already.
But perhaps just as important as when it will happen is how: What’s the proper width for a layout optimized for 1024?
With 800×600 it’s easy: Account for browser chrome and scrollbars (usually 40-50px) and then use as much of the remaining space as possible. This usually means a layout width of 750-760px.
If we use the same logic for 1024, browser chrome is still the same, so that leaves us with 974-984px as the “ideal” width. However, many users (including myself) don’t browse full screen, especially as display resolution in increased. Almost as if there’s an inverse relationship between browser width and display resolution — as the display gets wider, the browser width gets smaller (proportionately).
Additionally, in a time we all are, or should be, considering grid usage in layouts, is a random number like 974 an optimal number for dividing a layout into its necessary elements — sidebar(s), main content area, and so on? Fluid/liquid layouts are another issue, but even those have to be optimized for a minimum width.
I’ve been using 960 for some time now, as it’s slightly smaller than full width, and it’s divisible by 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, and 16 (imagine the grid possibilities). I’d love to hear what all of you are wrestling with.
Update: Jon (first comment) brings up an interesting point: If your layout includes ads, 960 seems to facilitate IAB widths fairly well.
Update II: Jeremy (comment #22) makes a good case for fluid instead of fixed-width. My thinking here was aimed at optimizing for 1024 resolution and not necessarily 1024 fixed-width sites, per se (there’s a difference). Hence, I’ve changed the title of this article as it appears to have been misleading.