Responsive Images and Safe Areas

Sometimes a designer or a content editor wants images, videos or more advanced content sections such as image sliders to take the full width of the browser window or even the full screen (height and width).

Full width or full screen content has many advantages from a design point of view and is often used to show off great videos or images in the header of a page. Homepages often use a full screen hero section:

These full width elements normally have a background video or image which is set to cover all the available space, given a fixed height (for example 600px height).

This means, that depending on the browser windows size, a part of the background image will be cut off.

Background images are often centered. This means, that if the browser window is wider than the background image width, an equal part on the top and bottom of the background image will be “cut off” (= not visible). If the browser window is less wide than the background image, the background image will still try to cover the given height of the full-width section. For this, it has to sacrifice space in the horizontal dimension. The background image will therefore be cut off on the left and right, like, for example on this iphone X screen:

In the real world, users will come to see your beautiful full width section on many different screen and browser sizes. Therefore, many of them will never see all of your beautiful background picture, but always just parts of it.

That’s where safe areas come in. A safe area is the part of the image that will always* show, whatever the user’s device or screen size. Here is an example of the definition of a safe area for a specific website project:

Content editors and designers should be briefed accordingly, so that they know how to resize and crop their images, so that the important part of the image is inside the safe area. Safe area briefings for different full-width sections on the website are therefore often created by project managers and web programmers.

Here you are a template that you can download and use for your own purposes:

I hope I could explain the complexities of using full-width images in this articles. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment or write to me.

*In practice, of course, there will always be users that wont even see the safe area, because, for example, they use a very old Blackberry phone. However in web design its best practice to set a compatibility policy and then ignore devices and browsers outside of that policy for cost and efficiency reasons.