Last Updated (Friday, 27 August 2010 14:03) Written by admin Tuesday, 12 August 2008 09:26
Layout refers to the dimensioning of content in a device display, and the delivery of media in a content related stream. Web design layouts result in visual content frameworks: these frameworks can be fixed, they can use units of measure that are relative, or they can provide fluid layout with proportional dimensions. The deployment flowchart (a useful tool on any design project) should address content layout. Many units of measure exist, but here are some popular dimension formats:
- Pixel measure results in fixed or static content
- Em measure results in proportional content that is relative to font-size
- Percent measure results in fluid content that shrinks and grows to "fit" display windows
Proportional, liquid and hybrid layout are also referred to as dynamic design. Hybrid layout incorporates any combination of fixed, proportional or fluid elements within (or pointing to) a single page. The hybrid web design framework is made possible by digital internet conventions generally prescribed by the W3C. If any layout does not appear as it should, it is very likely that it does not conform to standard design principles, or that those standards conflict with standard layout elements. Current knowledge of standards is essential to effective hybrid design.
The earliest web pages used fixed layouts without exception. In many business pages fixed layouts are preferred today as they easily contain static tabled information. Fixed layout enforces device display convention, as viewers must set their display to at least a certain width to easily view content. This width can include display of corporate logos, cautions, advertisements and any other target content. Design frameworks for fixed layout may need to include coding for multiple display devices.
Hybrid design maintains most static content control, but is adapted to textual publishing, and for readers, to conventional (printed) display. Hybrid layouts are generally easy on the eye and are found on most sites that distribute traditional images and text to readers. For some sites, hybrid design makes an otherwise cold text column appear warm and balanced. A good example of hybrid layout is Wordpress, where liquid design is now optional, and movie and auditory media is stretching the envelope.
Fluid design is useful where content is delivered to an 'unknown device' population. Appropriate liquid code displays images, text and spaces proportional to display size. Someone with a handheld can see view and interact with the same content as someone using a large desktop monitor. However, scaling of content for a variety of devices has more recently evolved with modern web browsers, allowing users to see the same layout across all devices.
As W3C conventions evolve, the use of design "space" is becoming less static and more fluid in its potential. The result is that old layouts look ... old. In dealing with font layout, even expressed as ems, a static core cannot be escaped and often anchors most page content. However, as new standards are adopted by device manufacturers, viewers notice a wider spectrum of content and a greater interaction between and through content. For the World Wide Web Consortium drawing up tomorrows layout conventions, new media types and methods are increasingly in the mix. It is a true double axiom that 'content is all about layout', and 'layout is all about content'. We could say that layout is what designers squeeze into available technology — content is the culture manifested in the layout. "Space' is the envelope holding layout and content together. Space communicates style (layout appearance) to the target population. Understanding how to adapt space to this layout-content relationship is essential to web design. Every design's survivability depends on its sensitivity to emerging technology (within the cultures that its framework is servicing), and immediate acceptance depends on the layout or presentation of that content. On every page, no content is more susceptible to changes and variations in standards, than space. While the professional designer casually admits that 90% of design code is used to adapt space, most of his current work deploys spatial manipulations being used to actively reshape Internet communication.
Conceptual barriers to adequate layout abound! Presently layout is challenged by conflicting convention that makes it impossible to fit liquid and hybrid layout to the bottom corners of a display. Simply put, display device manufactures use the top right and/or left corners to display content. For non-standard equipment, setting custom fixed layout to their device is still seen by some businesses as a means of increasing revenue, as they can sell a 'unique' display. This business approach, domainating the digital market at the end of the last century, is not so useful today. However, some would claim a decade behind schedule, CSS3 and HTML5 are finally taking the four penultimate display reference point seriously. Just in time for 3 dimensional vector layout to tangle designers' templates in conundrums!
A common misconception among designers is to assume their layout is liquid because initial space and text container widths are in percents. However, their 'liquid' framework, while adhering to focused conventions, failed to manage graphic content. A subsequent edit placing a large image on the page, destroys the page appearance. When managing a design framework, it is critical that layout address content, convention and user interaction.
On the web the designer has no control over several factors, including the size of the browser window, the web browser used, the input devices used (operating system, mouse, touch screen, voice command, text, teletype, cell phone, or other hand-held), and the size, design, and other characteristics of the fonts that users have available (installed) and enabled (preference) on their device. Unique manufacture and conflicting device contentions are further complicated by varying browser interpretations of the same content, and some content automatically can trigger browser changes. Web designers do well to study and become proficient at removing competitive device and software markup so that web pages display as they are coded to display. Eric Meyers, a well known educator and developer, is one of many resources who have spear-headed HTML reset coding. While they cannot yet leave one local environment to control another, web designers can adjust target environments to remove much common markup that alters or corrupts their web content. Because device manufacturers are highly protective of their patent markup, Meyers and others caution that reset remains experimental.
Tableless Web design
When Netscape Navigator 4 dominated the browser market, the popular solution available for designers to lay out a Web page was by using tables. Often even simple designs for a page would require dozens of tables nested in each other. Many web templates in Dreamweaver and other WYSIWYG editors still use this technique today. Navigator 4 didn't support CSS to a useful degree, so it simply wasn't used.
After the browser wars subsided, and the dominant browsers such as Internet Explorer became more W3C compliant, designers started turning toward CSS as an alternate means of laying out their pages. CSS proponents say that tables should be used only for tabular data, not for layout. Using CSS instead of tables also returns HTML to a semantic markup, which helps bots and search engines understand what's going on in a web page. All modern Web browsers support CSS with different degrees of limitations.
However, one of the main points against CSS is that by relying on it exclusively, control is essentially relinquished as each browser has its own quirks which result in a slightly different page display. This is especially a problem as not every browser supports the same subset of CSS rules. There are the means to apply different styles depending on which browser and version are used but incorporating these exceptions makes maintaining the style sheets more difficult as there are styles in more than one place to update.
For designers who are used to table-based layouts, developing Web sites in CSS often becomes a matter of trying to replicate what can be done with tables, leading some to find CSS design rather cumbersome due to lack of familiarity. For example, at one time it was rather difficult to produce certain design elements, such as vertical positioning, and full-length footers in a design using absolute positions. With the abundance of CSS resources available online today, though, designing with reasonable adherence to standards involves little more than applying CSS 2.1 or CSS 3 to properly structured markup.
These days most modern browsers have solved most of these quirks in CSS rendering and this has made many different CSS layouts possible. However, some people continue to use old browsers, and designers need to keep this in mind, and allow for graceful degrading of pages in older browsers. Most notable among these old browsers is Internet Explorer 6, which is viewed in the web design community as becoming the new Netscape Navigator 4 — a block that holds the World Wide Web back from converting to CSS design. However, the W3 Consortium has made CSS in combination with XHTML the standard for web design.