I Want Design Input

I run this blog mainly for my own enjoyment, so I mostly am just designing the new WordPress version whatever the hell way I want it.

But, I am split on the issue of fixed vs. variable width.  This blog currently is variable width.  Text expands and contracts to fill the screen width.  The pro of variable width is that it allows people with wider monitors to actually take advantage of the real estate they invested in.  The con is the site almost never looks as aesthetically nice as a fixed width site, where everything is a bit more in control  (example here of fixed width).

Any preferences out there?  Please comment.


  1. Thomas North:

    I visit to read. The more words on the screen at one time the better. Variable width gets my vote.

  2. kjohnsey:

    I hate wasting screen, so I'll have to vote variable width as well.

  3. Andrew:

    Definitely variable. You are trying to relay information, not win a potential client. Also, you don't have to worry about image sizes when you post them.

  4. mjh:

    I read you through google reader. It doesn't really matter to me. That said, I agree with the above. I prefer variable width.

    Just, for the love of all that is holy, do not ever start giving short or abbreviated RSS feeds. Please stick with full feeds.

  5. danny:

    If I cared about your aesthetics, I never would have read your blog at all. No offense, but its ugly.

    Now you can take that two ways...maybe more people will read your blog if its prettier (go fixed). Or maybe the people who actually care about what you have to say will just like it in the way thats easiest to read (go variable).

    I am reluctant to say variable, even though I like it better. I wish more people would read your posts. I link all over message boards and on comments boards of other blogs, hoping people will hear what you have to say and pass it on as well. Maybe your site design could help in that, maybe it can't. My personal preference is variable, but at least take into account the reason for fixed. And take into account this as a suggestion for a total redesign.

  6. T J Sawyer:

    I read blogs via a copy of Firefox with about a dozen tabs dedicated to conservative/libertarian type bloggers. (Congratulations, you are the fourth tab!) All the others are fixed width. I had never noticed yours was variable. I like the variable width a great deal since it allows one to shrink the window and still read the blog. Wish they were all that way. On the other hand, since I never noticed it before you mentioned it... Guess it isn't really too important to me.

  7. austin:

    The one good thing about fixed width is I can narrow the window to cover up any whirling blinking ads. If you don't plan to have whirling blinkers, variable is better.

  8. aynrandgirl:

    Variable width. I don't like sites that try to dictate what size my browser should be.

  9. Ian V:

    Variable. I'm either reading on a full screen window with size rolled up, OR I'm reading in a tab on one of several open browsers, with Fox's Strategy room on the bottom right, with a similar sized Thunderbird window under it, stock ticker bottom middle, market window on left. Either way, fixed is a problem.....

  10. Booklegger:

    Fixed width is of/for/by the devil.

  11. Ben:

    I wouldn't mind either way, as long as you don't fill up the screen with other stuff so that I have to scroll down to read the shortest post. Like this http://www.iaindale.blogspot.com/

  12. Shamus:

    I know I'm in the minority, but I'm a big believer in fixed width. My problem with variable is that on widescreen monitors it's just TOO wide. When your eyes track back to the left, it's hard to find the right line because you traveled so far. It feels like a newspaper column that runs the entire width of the page.

    Fixed also makes it possible to wrap text around multiple images. If you'll indulge me a link to my own blog:


    That article has a series of images tucked into the text. If it was variable width, then on wide screens the text would not be enough to space the images apart vertically. The images would then do this odd diagonal stacking that looks terrible. So, fixed-width is a good way of making your layout future-proof, so that things will be readable no matter how big monitors get.

    Finally, there's a lot to be said for white space. We use margins on printed paper for a reason. You could save a lot of paper by running the text right to the edge, but it gives the page an overly-dense, "overwhelming" feeling. Dense text is for efficient, but wide margins is more relaxing for many.

    It's all subjective, but that's my take on it.

  13. Miklos Hollender:

    Variable width, because the blog isn't very aesthetical anyway, so better to focus on practicality.

  14. Mike:

    I have a widescreen monitor, I prefer variable width.

    Having said that, I fail to understand how fixed width improved the aesthetics. I took a quick look at the link you provided as an example of fixed, and I got the stupid bars on either side like watching a standard television program on a widescreen display.

  15. Dave:

    Variable width.

    Powerline's site is as ugly as their views.

  16. Stephen Macklin:

    99% of the time I'm just reading the text off the RSS feed - you are keeping the full feed, right? Most of the blogs I read I can access this way and never see what their design. Which is good because a lot of really good writers don't have a clue about design.

    That being said don't fear white space. Give your readers eyes some relief on the page. If someone is going to be so offended by a fixed with design "wasting screen space" that they will stop reading your site - you probably don't want them here anyway.

  17. Shamus:

    I realize I'm pushing the limits of blog decorum by linking to myself TWICE now in the same thread. Feel free to nuke this if it's unwelcome.

    An even bigger controversy is the black / white background issue.


    It's more complicated than it seems at first.

  18. Daran:

    Mainly using the RSS feed. Otherwise slight preference for variable width.

  19. ParatrooperJJ:

    Variable - a whold bunch of people surf the web using a reduced size browser.

  20. Mike Soja:

    Variable, all the way. Three columns, too, helps keep the middle content from being too wide. Full RSS feed.

  21. Cyrus Killgore:

    VARIABLE... and thank you for it !!

  22. John Anderson:

    Variable. Like the weather.

  23. Nobrainer:


    I think the width should be allowed to vary, but between some min and max size. Certainly it can feel bad to waste space. However this isn't a football game. Without a max width, things just get unwieldy.

  24. agesilaus:

    Variable, I use a reader too. Some blogs with fixed width behave very poorly when you resize the text, Climate Audit is awful.

  25. jeh:

    Please, please keep it variable.

  26. Milena Thomas:

    While I enjoy the variable width for the reasons outlined above, I completely disagree about keeping variable width, as it really does negatively impact design. I do read this blog for content, but I also think aesthetics matter considerably, for gaining new readers.

    When pretty much every professional blog and publication on the planet is a fixed width format, that may signal something.

    A wonderful blog about design and content, specifically for blogs is Mens with Pens http://menwithpens.ca/ - you could hire them for your redesign - they are not too costly. They also do free "Drive by Shootings" where they publicly scrutinize your blog, or you can pay them for a private review. But simply reading their drive-bys on sundays can teach you a lot about blog design.

    A new, inviting design can really help set a mood, make a statement, and make navigation much easier - which right now on your site is very difficult to get to as we'd have to scroll down the entire page to see the additional topics.

    At the very least, if you keep the variable width, move your navigation to the top, horizontally across the screen - we want to know more about your insights and right now they are difficult to get to!

  27. Matt:

    Fixed width is much better to read. Studies show that the most readable line length is the width of the lowercase alphabet twice:
    That's just a rule of thumb, but a pretty solid one. Try looking around http://www.alistapart.com . There's probably a way to please both sets of people on this blog.

  28. Kirk:

    Read through Google Reader so my main interest is in keeping the full RSS feed (i.e. not abbreviate). I think variable is probably best for the blog itself.

  29. LoneSnark:

    Is it possible to do a hybrid? My browser rarely fills the entire screen because there are processes in the background I need to keep an eye on. However, with the current site, when I shrink the browser down to make room the text space shrinks instead of the optimal outcome, which would be pushing the green field on the right out of view. I realize I am probably an odd case.

    I should also mention I fixed this by switching to a reader which does not have menu/link fields to eat up horizontal space.

  30. HS:

    I am torn. Part of the problem is too much government intervention in the markets and in the automotive industry which lead to this mess. Another part of this problem is the complacancy of our automotive industry.

    But taking a bigger picture, I think this is the exact same thing the U.S. government is facing. I think the country is exhibiting the exact same thing GM is exhibiting. If GM needs a bankruptcy to fix itself, does the US need a bankruptcy to fix itself?

    Then you get into even larger issues like this http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/3319656.html and this http://geoff82.wordpress.com/2008/07/28/chinese-military-technology-becoming-self-sufficient/.

    I agree with this, "technology is developed where it is domiciled".

    I think people do not see that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have been building cars people want. People wanted SUV's, big trucks and gas guzzlers but the market has changed too fast. In my experience, any company that grows or shrinks by 10% is under great strain. Friends that have sold businesses have said if they could go back, they would not have grown as fast as they did.

    GM needs change from the outside but this could be going too far IMO.

  31. Jens Fiederer:

    Variable. Your forte is content, leave the glamourous presentations to Virginia Postrel.

    Unlike danny, I wouldn't call your style "ugly" .... just unobtrusive the way I like it. If you really want to get people to "ooh" and "aah" at the look, you DO have to change, but this doesn't seem to me your primary motivation.

  32. me:

    Whatever you do, don't force me to move a horizontal scroll bar in order to read. I guess that means I want the text to be variable-width.

    If I have decided that a certain width looks best, then I can always open a new browser window, and make it that width. But if _you_ make that decision for me, I expect I would not be able to override it.

    Kind of like government making decisions for me, versus me making them on my own :-)

  33. Scott:

    Variable. Easier to read on my 19.

  34. foxmarks:

    Fixed. It is easier to read lines of predictably short scan length (I agree with Shamus). But, what matters more is the width you choose, and the typeface. Blogspot sites use a fixed width far too narrow, too much like print newspaper columns. A fixed width is also easier to manage when clicking between windows for copy/pasting of blockquotes.

    Also remember that each user can adjust the typesize, so even in fixed, the user has some control.

    Use a template, or consult an actual designer, if you want to maximize legibility. The people who can’t read your redesigned site will just leave and not tell you why. The few dozen of us commenters here are addicts who, it appears, would keep reading even if you cluttered it with flashing crap and auto-playing background music.

  35. ErikTheRed:

    I'd have to vote for fixed-width, unless you can do "variable-width up to a maximum." On a 24" 1920x1200 monitor the lines are way too long for fast reading (never mind if you have a browser stretched across two of these things), but I can understand that people viewing with lower resolutions or larger fonts (size isn't important) don't want to deal with a horizontal scroll bar.

    With your current typeface and size, I'd suggest going no wider than 650 - 800 pixels for the "content" portion (excluding sidebars).

  36. Mike:

    There are many reasons for changing the size of the web window I'm viewing from so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that while a fixed width web site may seem more aethstetic to the webmaster, it is much less friendly to the viewer.
    Please count this as a strong vote for variable width.
    Also, I like the site and check it everyday so please keep writing about what ever interests you as our interests overlap to a great degree.
    Best Regards,
    Mike -

  37. larry Sheldon:

    This may come as a shock.

    I don't read blogs because of the color schemes (I read some in spite of them).

    I don't look for blogs with the greatest repertoire of gadgets and whimseys.

    I read blogs for the ideas expressed.

    Helpful use of graphics to assist in conveying the message is OK, although as you well know most ideas well expressed in words do not need pictures.

    Impentetrable color scemes and anything that jiggles, moves, blinks, or crawls will make you a "used to read" no matter how well it is writen otherwise.

    As for the issue of variability I am pretty much neutral on the issue, being a 10 CPI kind of guy. Large gaps for "justification" tend to annoy me but I can usually get past that.

  38. dearieme:

    It matters much more to me that your font be big enough.

  39. David Zetland:

    Shamus is right -- fixed is more efficient for reading. (Read Knuth on digital typesetting.)

    I have a 24 inch monitor and I don't like tennis neck....

  40. mishu:

    The reason there are margins on printed paper is to allow space for your thumbs while holding it. I don't hold my wide screen monitor like that. Variable all the way.

  41. Matt:

    Fixed is much better, but it looks like I'm not going to win that argument here.

  42. xpatUSA:

    Variable width is OK for what you usually present - which is text. As an amateur webmaster, I find fixed width better when presenting images (which I size to suit the width chosen) at left or right, mixed with text nicely wrapping round. To my discredit, I don't consider those folks that resize text in their own browsers.

    Fixed width is favored by free blog providers such as Google's blogspot, probably because blogging was introduced mainly for folks with something to say but unencumbered by the minutia of HTML, XHTML, XML, JavaScript and such.


  43. Noumenon:

    I'm surprised to see Shamus here!

    I use 800x600 resolution so I hope you don't go to anything that makes me scroll back and forth. I'm with the guy who says you don't want to get too much text on a line. When I get a bigger monitor, I get bigger text -- not more, tiny text.

  44. briankk:

    Stay with the variable, seems much less cluttered on my screen.

  45. Daniel:

    Fixed width please. I use either a 24" monitor or s 22" and variable gets ridiculously wide. That's what I prefer fixed width.

  46. Doug Murray:


    Fixed works well for a blog that is mostly short posts that might look way too wide otherwise.

    I got my wide screen because I like to take in as much as possible with one look. Currently I can view one of your charts and the 400 words you've written about it at the same time and don't have to scroll back and forth. Sometimes Mark Perry makes me do that and Greg Mankiew compensates by making his images so small you have to have to open them in another window unless you're using a really low resolution. As your posts can be lengthy your charts are interesting, I think what you've been doing works well.

    And if I have to scroll through 4-5 screens to read 700 words, instead of the one they fit on now, it just makes a post seem longer.

  47. Nick Archer:

    Your content is king, but I prefer variable width.

  48. Corky Boyd:

    I prefer variable, especially if graphics are involved. Many times a chart will cover the text and I need to hide my favorites to read it.

    The aesthetics really aren't that important to me, it's what you write

  49. Todd Roth:

    I like fixed width, because the composition remains balanced. The composition is the structure within which information is displayed/viewed. The visual structure is created to attract and keep the the eye on your site. With fixed I also use only the center of the page leaving margins left and right.

    Regards, Todd

  50. Tim Fowler:

    Variable. Definitely. The only way I might like fixed width is if it happens to fit my monitor well, but even then I don't see any big advantages over variable (and also I have different monitors that I use)