I've noticed many sites (including stackexchange) use the 'fixed width' or 'boxed' layout where 50% of my screen is white space, kind of like watching a standard definition TV show on an HD screen.

Historically I guess this was for mobile device compatibility, but with fluid layouts, that's better handled by removing or re-formatting elements of the page when needed.

What am I missing? Why have many apps (facebook, soundcloud, stripe, mixpanel, etc) decided to go with the boxed format? Is it just a better user experience?


3 Answers 3


For text, it's because of how many words/characters per line are comfortable to read - much research has been done and many blogs written...

For images (think Facebook), if they were wider, they would get higher as well and you couldn't see much content without scrolling.

I believe multi-column designs have been tried, users didn't know how to navigate those monsters (in newspaper, you turn the pages, but on a webpage you scroll then click next or scroll down then scroll up or what?) - so in the end main content is usually only placed in 1 column that is comfortable to read.


What you're talking about is "fixed width layout". There is a lot of debate around this. See this article for starters: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/06/02/fixed-vs-fluid-vs-elastic-layout-whats-the-right-one-for-you/

I think the main reason is that people with sufficiently large screens often don't maximize their browsers, but have them in parallel with other windows, thus effectively reducing the screen size available to the web site anyway.

  • Thanks, what I'm gathering is that fixed width provides better compatibility across the largest range of browsers and versions. It's much harder to design for the variability of fluid layouts without restricting support to more modern browsers. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 17:24
  • For many sites, the reason, as indicated by Aprillon, is for text readability. See baymard.com/blog/line-length-readability. It's not about different devices.
    – Bill Dagg
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 19:19

I'm just guessing, nothing too formal:

Looking at the Facebook-style "content column" design, what would be the opposite of that? I think a Michael Bay film would come close.

Bay want's to make you feel lost in dynamic imagery. Have you sense the motion, intentionally making it impossible to grasp every detail.

When you consume content, you want the opposite of that. You want a very focused, compact serving that's easy to digest. Moving your eyes and re-focusing is a heavy task.

Michael bay uses huge panoramic settings and visuals to his end. He takes advantage of the human eye's extremely weak peripheral vision and blasts it with motion, until all you get is choreographed chaos, with the main protagonist in a certain shot clear in the foreground.

Facebook considers your weak peripheral vision and so keeps the edges nice and clean.

Same consideration as Bay, same human weakness. Bay exploits, Facebook protects.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.