[thelist] Re: multicolumn layouts

Carol Stein techwatcher at accesswriters.com
Mon Oct 7 13:44:03 CDT 2002

Hi, Rudy et al

>i just wish people would finally wake up and realize there's something
>wrong with multicolumn layout itself, never mind if it's done with tables
>or divs

Waaaay back around 1996 (when I was first designing Web sites and teaching others how to design them) I wrote that navaids and the like should bear in mind the aspect ratio of the screen. (It's horizontal!!!) I agree that columns usually are not good things, for the reasons you specified. But, reading wide columns is not good, either, as readability gurus will attest.

Aside: in 1997 when Vinie (actor, activist, etc.) wanted her home page to feature a picture of her, flanked on one side by excerpts of reviews and on the other by introductory bio material, I created my first table-based layout. It's a *good* layout, judging by what all her visitors have told her, or written, so far. "Good" means the layout fits the page's purpose and intended audience; those are two of the most important general criteria for Web sites, as for other documents. (Yup, I'm still insisting a Web site is just another type of document.)

Most Web site pages should NOT use the print model for layout. I still like the ancient layout reused for my accesswriters.com site, which reliably has inter-page, intra-site navaids at top and bottom; reliably (predictably) offers the reader a quick link back to the internal page's hypertext table of contents every screen or two (between major sections of the page), simultaneously offering a link back to the home page... I still say having a simple, repeatable navaid (preferably an icon) repeated at intervals in each margin of a narrow column of text is best for the reader, assuming the purpose of the page is to present text.

Unfortunately, until browsers conform better to CSS specs, I sorta have to use a table layout -- just to present a single column of text with a couple of marginal graphics repeated at intervals! (Also, at the top of almost every page, there's a header and the hypertext toc, and at the bottom a site navaid, which is first presented/explained on the home page.) Current designers apparently abhor mapped images, but they're forgetting why a well-chosen picture is worth a thousand words.

Sites also should have a search box (I haven't implemented this yet; my site's not officially open), which corresponds to the index in a print medium. Also, the home page should orient the reader to the contents/intent/function of the site, especially by good use of graphics. Current trends in design are especially poor at this last function; most Web designers are literally attempting to use a Table of Contents in place of a good title/cover. Yes, it's hard; requires a lot of creative thinking. Does that mean we shouldn't do it?

One more thing, quite important to a complete theory of site design: The Internet generally ought to be interactive. I am still mulling over how to redesign my stories in "news" pages in such a way that the reader can see the original statement, plus previous readers' comments running parallel to the statement, plus an input box in which to add more comments. Now *that's* a layout challenge. (Pop-up box, resizable/re-place-able, for new comments by the current reader? Make comments smaller as their numbers increase? Framed comments, scrollable?)

Cheers --

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