Small-screen websites need a lot of thought

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 October, 2004, 12:00am

I have done a lot of web design but I have encountered a number of problems. A lot of designers seem to think designing for Microsoft IE is all they have to do. I have tried to keep in mind that there are other platforms - the Mac and Linux, for example.

There is another problem, however, and that is mobile devices and PDAs. If a site is directed at China, it is important for it to be designed for mobile devices because so many people have Java-powered mobile phones.

Are there resources to help with this? Must I redesign everything for the small screen?

Name and address supplied

For a long time, Tech Talk has supported standards and the more open they are the better. It is sad when designers work on only one platform and browser. With IE being dropped by a lot of firms because of security concerns and the re-emergence of Mozilla, it would be wise for designers to be careful what they do.

Many use a Mac and that helps because you get to test the original design on the Mac. If it runs there, it is likely to run on Windows as well, but it must be checked.

PDAs and other small screens are different. You may want to have a look at some of the sites mentioned in ESC Sequences this week. There are pointers to sites designed specifically for the small screen.

Lots of text is not going to go over well, nor will most images, although small ones that link to something else may just get by.

The screens will vary in size, some being really small and others as large as 340x480, or half the size of a PC screen of a few years ago. The problem, of course, is that you cannot know what size screen the user has.

Apart from the pure design issues, you will need to be economical with language. Using fewer words will look better and be easier to read. Although it is possible to scroll through text, you will want to keep that to the minimum.

Perhaps the biggest problem is in testing. If designing for the Palm Pilot, you can get an emulator from Palm OS. With this, you can really see how the site works. Check out some of the phone manufacturers because they sometimes have emulators, although they will almost certainly be for Windows only.

Designing for the small screen is an interesting challenge but it can be rewarding. You must really come to terms with what information is important. If doing this as a business find an editor.

As with all software and design you must test all the time. Look at sites designed for the small screen. You may also want to talk to people who have been using their PDA or mobile phone for a long time to surf. They will know what is irritating and what works.

POSE (Palm OS Emulator) is software that will reproduce the Palm screen on your computer (Mac, Unix or Windows). It is a great way to test your small-screen designs:


The following two sites will test your site for accessibility:

This is Wired Magazine's advice on designing for PDAs

This site has lots of links to accessible webpage design.

The Palm Pilot browser is also a useful place. AvantGo for

Questions to Tech Talk will not be answered personally. E-mail Danyll Wills at