A lot of clients ask me why there is so much blank space on both sides of their website, and I often get requests to make the site “fill the screen”
This is something that is easier said than done, especially when you want to maintain a certain look or design.
Monitor resolutions are based on a set # of pixels. 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, etc…different website visitors are going to be using different resolutions depending on a their screen size, if they have a standard or a widescreen monitor.
In order to optimize a website to be viewable on the largest possible number of monitors (without a horizontal scrollbar), you have to make the website small enough to be viewed by someone who’s screen resolution is 800×600 – as this is the setting used by more than 50% of people today (this number changes as time progresses)
So although us lucky people (with large and/or widescreen monitors) see the website with LOTS of blank “wasted” space on either side of the site, many people see the site as exactly filling their screen.
Now the question often comes up, “Why can’t the site scale to the browser like the other ones I have seen?”
If you allow your text and graphics to float around the page, your site’s final appearance is almost unpredictable.
When your text flows from one side of your screen, all the way to the other side, you could end up with lines of text hundreds of characters long on a larger monitor. Ideally, you want your text lines to be about 80 characters long. That is the reason that a standard “letter’ sheet is 8.5 x 11. With a standard sized type, the lines are long enough to be legible, without having to worry about your eye “losing it’s place” when it returns to the beginning of the next line.
At the end of the day, when I design a website for a client, the #1 priority is that the website looks GREAT on the CEO’s monitor, since he’s the one paying the bill. But, we do need to consider the other visitors and their experience. When we limit the width of the site, we are not wasting space, but allowing for a more elegant design and functionality.