The Usability Post
Thoughts on design and user experience by Dmitry Fadeyev

A Frame Within a Frame

I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, because if I did it would be a case of me not eating my own dog food. I’ve just updated the design of the blog, and this time I’ve removed the bounding box inside which the content was placed, so now there is no “frame” around the content.

Why did I do this? I did it because I think that frame is redundant. See: we already have a frame around all of our Web content–the frame of the browser window itself. The browser window is the container inside which we place our site’s content. For some reason we decided this isn’t enough, so we create our own boxes inside which our site’s contents sit. What we end up doing though is creating a frame within a frame.

The reason why we create artificial frames inside the browser window is because we don’t have a fixed screen size to work with. We don’t know how wide the user’s window is, so we enforce our own dimensions by creating a fixed width content div. Of course we could make a liquid layout, but that’s hard.

But the thing is, I don’t think we should be afraid of letting our content sit there by itself in the middle of the page. Whenever I read a book I enjoy the simplicity of its presentation and layout. Here is a white page with the content placed in the center. Maybe there is a page number at the bottom, maybe there’s a chapter title at the top. There is a very limited amount of information presented to you at any time, and it’s usually tastefully laid out. Its design is also honest: it’s just content itself, laid on in the best way to make it easy to read–there’s nothing superfluous.

On the web though, rather than take that content centric approach (37signals call this epicenter design), we often build that visual frame into which we drop in the content. The frame is the container; it binds our content to certain dimensions, giving them focus and giving the designer more visual order to work with. But why bother? We’ve already got a browser window that acts as a frame to our content–the browser window is that page on which our content is placed. Our job is to lay out and present that content in the best way possible. Putting frames and boxes around it is unnecessary.

That’s not to say boxes and frames aren’t useful. They are, when you want to bring attention to something, show hierarchy or separate something out better, but they’re just not needed when you want to present the main content on the page.

Disagree? Leave a comment below, I’d love to read your thoughts.

“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

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Further Reading

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