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I know that previously it was 960 pixels, but lately I have had clients wanting me to push the envelope further and prompted me to do some research on the matter.

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Possible duplicate: Best fixed-width website size‌​. Also generally avoid anyone telling you to "push the envelope" when "push the envelope" means "small screens can't use it and large screens will have paragraph widths far too long" –  Ben Brocka Oct 22 '12 at 20:03
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There is no standard –  DA01 Oct 22 '12 at 21:31
    
if you rephrase the question a bit, like "most common" it will make more sense, but still will be relative. –  PatomaS Oct 23 '12 at 0:54
    
According to what I understand from the latest Data Monday from Luke Wroblewski, there wouldn't be any standard. The great variety of the recently-released platforms leads to the conclusion that "At this point it should be painfully obvious that any company working on the Web today needs a multi-device design strategy to survive.". So you may need to create your content for multiple widths. –  Padrig Oct 29 '12 at 18:10

7 Answers 7

The correct response to your client is to examine your site's analytics. You can then respond:

Choice A) XX Pixels. X% of your users will find the site unusable.
Choice B) YY pixels. Y% of your users will find the site unusable.

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The obvious choice C is responsive design, but jumping from a fixed width site to a responsive site is a big jump. –  Brian Oct 22 '12 at 20:25
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Your answer is insightful but a bit too cynical. Why not take the comment and put it in the answer? Responsive design is the right answer. –  Rahul Oct 22 '12 at 20:47
    
Clients which are asking for a specific width are probably interested in creating a fixed width design. Clients tend to like fixed width because it provides more control and is more predictable. Artists tend to like fixed width because it is significantly easier to create and show a fixed width mock-up; fixed width is more intuitive. Really, the only people who prefer responsive design are UX professionals (and users). –  Brian Oct 22 '12 at 22:24
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Why not include that thought in the answer? –  Rahul Oct 22 '12 at 23:10
    
@Rahul: The OP is asking for advice on fixed width designs. I prefer to avoid the over-popular response of "don't use them." –  Brian Oct 23 '12 at 12:50

The Right Answer is Responsive Design as mentioned earlier. Take a look at some.

http://framelessgrid.com/

http://twitter.github.com/bootstrap/

http://www.getskeleton.com/

Responsive design works because it scales with the available screen size. So, when designing a website or web app you can be sure it will display appropriately when using phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.

It is still important to see what the ecosystem looks like in the past. If you have Google Analytics take a look at the last year's worth of visitors and sort by screen size. This should tell you more about the dimensions of your users screens and how a change in dimensions is going to effect them.

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Why is responsive design the right answer? –  Rahul Oct 22 '12 at 23:10
    
Please update the answer with this information, don't just tell me in a comment :) –  Rahul Oct 23 '12 at 16:10
    
Using Responsive Design is great for smaller screens, but I'm not sure why you think that it automatically means filling the entire width of any given screen. This site (UX Stack Exchange) has a responsive design, but I don't think that it being wider would make it better. –  Django Reinhardt Nov 25 '13 at 18:15
    
Django You make a good point. Not every site needs to fill the entire width. I think it is content dependent. –  designerWhoCodes Nov 26 '13 at 15:51
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My thoughts have changed on this over time. @DjangoReinhardt I agree there are very few real use cases for content extending past 1200px. I still see a need for responsive design for a multitude of devices but honestly there is no need to go full page width. I think I should update my answer. –  designerWhoCodes Feb 20 at 18:37

Responsive is great, but it's time consuming. I'd say stick with 960 (though I'm a fan of the 970 grid) and explain the reasoning. If you explain the upsides, then perhaps they'll realize that it makes sense.

Or, convince them they need responsive, do the extra work and charge the extra billable hours (also, charge a higher hourly fee, since it's more complex work) :D

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A key consideration is: who are your users, and what screen resolution are they likely to have?

Check out the chart in a recent Nielsen Alertbox entitled "Computer Screens are Getting Bigger:" http://www.useit.com/alertbox/screen_resolution.html

If your target users are "everyone everywhere in the world," you are best sticking with 960. If your users work at US corporations on tasks they will likely be doing at their desks, it is safe to work much wider. On a recent project we determined that our users would be working at a minimum 1440x900 even when working at home on their laptops, and assumed a browser window width of 1280. If your clients want to push this envelope, perhaps they have made a similar judgment. --Jim

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Yup, the Nielsen article sums it up -- the new average resolution is 1366×768. We're looking at redoing an admin interface in a wider 1200px container. That should be fine for most users, but I'm concerned that it also work for users on laptops and tablets. –  RobC Oct 23 '12 at 19:22

Responsive is great for smaller screen sizes, and to cope with phone and tablet displays. But I'm unconvinced that going wider than 960 (or so) is desperately important.

For example, the setup I use is a 27inch display, +my laptop's panel, and I still find wide layouts irritating. There are a number of reasons for that.

  1. I didn't buy a big display, just to display a single website. I bought it so I could view/work on two (or more) things side by side. That's the point of big displays, it makes you more productive by letting you switch between things much faster. I think this is pretty normal for people with large displays.

  2. Most websites aren't that wide. I use tabs in the browser, so typically I just cmd-T to open a new tab, put in a search or URL and I'm done. If a site is unusually wide I now have to resize the browser too. Given I have other windows on screen I basically have to rearrange my workspace which is annoying. This may just be my personal style, so it may not generalise though.

  3. If the actual content is too wide then line lengths get long, which makes reading difficult. 30-40ems seems like a good width for text, which isn't going to be more than around 650px at standard font-sizes. (If you're going for larger fonts, which I recommend for legibility, then tend towards 30ems, rather than 40). That still gives you width for side nav, or auxiliary content. Long line lengths are well known to be less readable.

Of course, you could still build a responsive design for wider displays, but I'm not convinced it'll get seen very often. And I'd absolutely make sure you have a design point at 960px or so.

In summary, the case for going wider than 960 isn't compelling, if I were the client I'd spend my money elsewhere.

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There is no standard. People are accessing the web through a wider range of devices and screen widths than ever before. Smart phones, tablets, mini tablets, notebooks, laptops, desktops, massive desktops etc etc.

You can't pick a width and expect that to do for everyone.

That is why responsive is the answer. It enables you to design for everyone.

There are a range of techniques used to design responsively. I usually design with a flexible grid, with changes to the layout at 2-3 breakpoints - so you could i guess consider those "standard" in order to have some starting points

Bootstrap sets these as:

Phone - 480px Tablet - 767px desktop - 979px Large display - 1200px

Its probably worth looking into using em's and % rather than pixels.

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/the-infinite-grid/ http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

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Although responsive designs are great, I don't think they are the answer you are looking for. I think the root of the problem comes from the width of paragraph text and the fact that you never want to horizontal scroll.

To me, the perfect paragraph is maximum of 600px wide, better around 540px. Add a sidebar of related content and you naturally end up around the 960px mark for the whole thing. Responsive designs can then shrink the paragraph width and hide the sidebar appropriately.

Ultimately the Web is narrow and people will scroll down and look down while browsing. Adding horizontal content may appear to fit more content on your client's crazy sized Apple monitor, but that doesn't mean the real world will actually see it.

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