Rendered beautiful or accessed effectively?

Filed under:Browsers,Web development — posted by Svein Kåre on 7 September 2006 @ 00:26

I just stumbled upon a post about Operas PR-manager Eskil Sivertsen’s comments on Nokias S60 browser — where he basically agrees with the review in the Register. Not everyone agrees with him, of course, and think his words were harsh. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, and our tastes vary, but one of the comments made me stop up and think a bit:

Concerning Opera mini – I really don’t like the way the browser changes the layout of full HTML pages to fit the viewing platform, as it means the designers lose control of how their pages look. I much prefer the S60 browser’s solution to viewing large pages on a small screen.

If I want pages optimized for a small screen I’ll use WAP. I personally believe that the responsibility of a proper page layout/viewing rests with the page designer and not the browser app.

My thoughts are spinning around this question: How important is the original layout, as the designer meant the site to be seen?

One point to consider here is the purpose of the design. Is it meant to make the site look pretty and inviting only? To enhance the readability of the text? To guide where you’re viewing to the most interesting links and pages on the site? Is the design important to the content, that the design itself provides part of the content? A second point is about the content itself: Is it meant to be read? Or just viewed, or what?

I think it will be safe to claim that for most sites, the point is for the content to be read. Maybe commented on and be discussed, but definitely read. In this case, how important is it that the design is preserved, in every case? It would be nice when it’s logical, but are the cases when it’s not that logical to preserve the original design?

Sites are usually designed to be viewed on a large screen, and the designs are based on this situation. Few sites are designed for smaller screens (or other media) even though there’s a lot of talk about accessing the web with mobile phones these days. What shall the browser on these phones do, if there are no stylesheets for them to tell how the design is supposed to be on small screens? After all — doesn’t this mean “sorry, no design for you”?

The phone browsers do handle it differently. Some pretend to have big screens, and zoom in on parts of it to make it possible to read. Other browsers reformat the whole thing and present a long, narrow page. (Are there more than Opera that does this?) Which of these approaces respect the designer’s wishes? Which are correct? And which are best?

The browsers that pretend to have big screens may be said to respect the designer — if the designer meant that all devices should behave like a big screen. However, if the designer meant “I don’t know what’s the best design for this device — present the content as you wish” then any rendering is OK. The correct way to render would be to follow the specified style sheet for small screens, if presents, and render without styles if not. (At least to my understanding — you may disagree.) The best way?

The best way would be to render the page so that the content is accessed effectively, i.e. easy to read, and that it’s quick and easy to navigate. If it’s hard to read what’s on the page, and navigation is complicated, then something’s wrong. It doesn’t harm that the browser is fast either, and have effective use of available memory.

So, which browser is best? You decide.

image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace