[thelist] Font Sizes

Rob Schumann roblgs at cscoms.com
Fri Oct 4 07:19:01 CDT 2002

Hi again...

I can still see both sides of this one...

On 04-10-2002 miinx wrote:
 > Geoff Sheridan wrote:
 > > But Billy didn't change his default font size because he
 > > didn't know he could, or he didn't think he needed to
 > > because nearly all the sites he visits specify px font
 > > sizes. So your site with font size set to 1em looks pants,
 > > with massive 16px type and Billy thinks you are incompetent.
 > > Billy's wrong, but unfortunately that doesn't make you right.
I put forward that same argument at the beginning of the week... and have since experienced evidence of it to be true... from the client of the site I've been developing, whose response was one of why the heck is the text so big, change it at once...
 > No way.  If Billy doesn't know he can change his font size,
 > then he certainly ain't gonna be competent enough to deem the
 > developer incompetent for not setting it either.
... and false... someone who has changed his browser setup to use smaller type and for whom the site is now illegible..., but who knew about font size controls and so changed his settings so that he could see it OK.

Know what?... Client wins... They may be seeing a FEW sites in their net cruising where text is perhaps oversized... but they have no idea of how those sites SHOULD look, whereas they have VERY clear ideas on how they want THEIR site to look... and they don't wish to be making changes to THEIR browser setup in order to see it that way... until they MAY start to get some complaints from visitors saying that the site was great (graphically), if only the text was more readable... You can argue the finer points of accessibility until you are blue in the face, but suggesting to the client that users who see the site with text too large (or too small) should recognise it as such and make the necessary changes to their browsers is a non starter...

In fact, to play devil's advocate a little, the visitors who experience text that is too small on a website with font-size scaled to 80% in the stylesheet because they have previously changed their settings are MORE likely to know they can make that change than "Billy", who has never done it and doesn't know that it is possible.

This doesn't mean that down-scaling body text to 70 or 80% of the browser is "correct" or suitable for default practice. Time was everyone was designing (and advising to design) at 11 or 12px fixed sizes. The concensus now is to develop to 1em or 100% and I support this AS DEFAULT practice, however, in the event that the client complains and is not open to persuasion otherwise, the only recourse then is to downscale... or to lobby browser makers for sensible default settings other than the 16px at 96dpi foisted upon us (won't happen).
 > > Me? I set base font size at 80% and then size other text in
 > > ems.
 > Have you ever seen that on a Mac?  Aaron is correct, it's for
 > all intents & purposes unreadable.
Actually, no... for Mac browsers since IE5 the default settings have been for 16px @ 96dpi, so the 80% would appear perfectly OK on all (IE, Opera, Moz & NN6+) mac browsers at their default settings.

There appears to be no 100% solution to this whole thing. At the moment though there is perhaps a prevalence of sites out there with font-size specified in absolute measurements for which the browser settings (on IE Windows at least) make not one jot of difference. If a majority of such browsers remain in their default settings then sites developed with font-size of 1em WILL have text sizes that appear unusually large.

As a pragmatic approach then why not start development with font-size set at 1em. If the client or primary user group complains that they can't see this with text of what they deem to be suitable size, then by all means redefine font-size to be scaled in accordance with their wishes/expectations. If it comes to it that it needs changing back at a later date, well it's just one line in a stylesheet.

I'm not fully comfortable with either solution though.

Best regards


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