Website to Wonderful, 6: Embrace Diversity

December 16, 2011

I recently bought my first Mac. There are many things to love (OMG, the screen). And there are some decidedly different things to get your head around.

In an average day, I’ll work on the iMac with its massive screen, and then look at stuff on the desktop PC or laptop PC with widescreen monitor in the evening.


Here’s what I’m noticing about my website viewing experience.

1. Text always looks better on the Mac

Fonts that look perfectly acceptable on the Mac may look like wobbly spider poo on the PC.

Fonts that look a bit iffy on the Mac look downright terrible on the PC.

Groovy fonts that look downright beautiful on your own system MAY NOT EVEN SHOW UP when your visitor views the page.

I always knew this in theory, but I’m noticing it a lot now.

There’s a site I’m reading at the moment. On the iMac, I can happily read the text in the original fancy style. Back on my PC, also running Firefox, the fancy style reverts straight to the basic fallback. And the basic fallback is very basic.

You need elegant degradation. I like that phrase. A stepped fallback, from fancy through safe bet to basic.

2. Wide layouts look horrible on the PC

On my PC monitor, wide sites (bigger than 1000 pixels) end up with a horizontal scroll bar. Little floaty bits float right out of sight.

Sure, I can make it bigger or smaller.

Then I can see your floaty Twitter bar but I can’t read your text.

On my Mac, wide sites look OK when my browser window is very wide; but most of my browser windows are fairly small. There’s no scroll bar, but elements that don’t fit horizontally just get squished. (As they do on the PC, ugh).

I’m seeing this a lot at the moment. Wide layouts are particularly bad for reading text – we scan narrower columns much more easily than bloated columns. The width of a paperback page (just slightly bigger than this column) is about right.

Widescreen text tends to lose the reader. It breaks the flow of your argument. You know that phrase about reading fiction, ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’? Very wide screens break that rapport. You wouldn’t want that.

So, beware the curse of wideness. You’ll thank me.

3. People use different systems.

(And just because someone uses a different system does not mean they are a bad person.)

Windows systems still dominate. (Unless you run exclusively in design circles, in which case it’s Apple all the way. Possibly).

Internet Explorer is still massive. IE is followed by Firefox and Chrome (running neck and neck), then Safari, and then Opera.

If you have a diverse market (and most of us do), then you need to build sites that deal well with the diversity of screens and systems.

If you are working with a designer, they should know this. Unfortunately, people get caught up in the loveliness of their design, and they fail to consider whether it will work across the typical range of machines and systems. But you owe it to your audience to make their reading experience pleasant.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Garwood December 16, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Brilliant post as always Dr A :)


Ali Mac January 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Thank you very much Ms G!


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