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Accessibility and Usability Forum

Centered Box, Left Justified Box, or Full Screen
Which Layout is the Best For General Site Design?

 8:50 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

Yahoo and MSN's mainpages are boxed in and centered on the page. Ebay and Microsoft are boxed and left-justified. Passport and Amazon are full screen. These sites are among the 10 most popular on the internet and they don't agree on a form.

Why? Does this diversity reflect a self-conscious attempt by these sites to set themselves apart, or is each design just aesthetically and functionally optimal for its site? And, what we'd all like to know: is one layout generally better than another?



 9:08 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

63% of people polled preferred center-aligned to left-aligned. But 47% of those people said later that they were lying, and of that 47%, 12% admitted to having alzheimer's, revealing that their confession to lying may have been about something other than page alignment, such as what they had for dinner last night.

Ok, that did actually have a point. And that is that there will never be a survey or set of statistics that proves which is best, and for 2 reasons:

1. "Good" sites (sites that have something everyone wants) WILL succeed in spite of bad design. I'm not saying eBay is poorly designed, i'm saying that it doesn't matter, as long as the content is reachable- and then people like us will sit here and say that design is successful, when really it could very well be holding back even more sales because of its inferiority. Point here is that you can never really know what's driving what: the design --> the success, or the success --> the perception of good design.

2. Some designs make more sense one way than they do the other... so even if there were a magic layout, you'd often find that your site just doesn't look right with the magic layout. News sites look great as liquid/full-width layouts as far as i'm concerned, because you need the flexibility of letting people resize the content so it's easy on the eyes, and because as a full-width design, you get more of a newspaper-in-your-face look. I don't feel that way about artist or musician sites necessarily, as there is often more focus on detail, and the more you can direct the eye, the better. Plus, a lot of artistsic content should not be resizable, scalable, moveable... it's in its current state for a very good reason.

I hate to answer every question on this forum with "it depends", but... it depends. Your content, your marketing, your users, your users' hardware, your competitors, the trends of the net... i think people have done enough to prove what doesn't work AT ALL (horizontal scrollbars), and beyond that, it's all up to the variables.


 11:25 pm on Mar 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

It may also be as simple as that it doesn't matter. There are certain things we may have strong personal preferences for, but in the end they may not matter from a usability standpoint.


 12:16 am on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

Point here is that you can never really know what's driving what: the design --> the success, or the success --> the perception of good design.

Interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way but when you mention it, MySpace didn't make it to the top riding on its dismal design. And many other sites come to mind.

Just a question Don, is it actually true %63 prefer left-justified or were you being facetious about the whole thing? I actually started this thread because I am working on a data-oriented site for which centered, left-aligned, and full-width layouts all seem like valid options.


 1:22 am on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

"Prefer" is also hugely dependent on "used to".

If it weren't for whatever-made-someone-decide-on-navigation-on-the-left-side I bet we would have more right-side navigation. It makes more intuitive sense on the right, with the scroll bar being on the right.

I think the same is true for page alignment. There used to be little choice but to left-align the page. Now with options, it's still a matter of breaking through the barrier of what people are used to.

I have witnessed many instances where people prefer a horrible solution simply because it falls within their comfort zone. And, being the case, perhaps it's not such a bad solution after all.


 2:25 am on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

If there is anything to heat maps it makes sense to have the navigation in the upper left region where it will be easily noticed.


 5:17 am on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think heat maps reflect a habit, not a natural tendency, to focus on arbitrary left-aligned content. The righthand scrollbar is arbitrary too, but it was here before the browser.


 3:15 pm on Mar 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

DrDoc- great points, as usual.

Inuwolf- lol, no... those numbers were definitely conjured up in my head... but hey, who would question you if you were to pass them off as valid stats?

My point there was that you could probably gather stats to prove the superiority of ANY reasonable design layout if you searched long enough for the right focus group... so it's really quite superficial to try to do anything in that vein.

Not that superficiality has ever stopped statisticians before.


 3:01 am on Mar 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

For those who read from left to right and top to bottom there would be a learned tendency to look at the top left area first.

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