Chris Peters's Blog

You need bigger font

June 11, 2007

Grow your font size.

Like it or not, a lot of your sites’ visitors wish that you would increase the default font size on your site. Finally, technology is starting to facilitate this, but why is no one willing to change along with it?

You probably know people who have low vision

I thought about this in depth after watching a friend’s father read a restaurant menu that had small font. He kept adjusting the distance between his eyes and the menu to try focusing better. He was a little younger than 50 years old.

A few weeks before, I had watched my own father have the same struggle at that same restaurant. He eventually gave up and had to have my mom choose something for him.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for these guys to try reading 8 point Verdana on their monitors. I doubt they appreciate having daily eye exams at their computers.

The usability expert’s take

Webreakstuff commented on Jakob Nielsen’s Top Ten Web Design Mistakes of 2005[1] a couple years ago. The number 1 usability mistake of 2005, according to Nielsen, was illegible font sizes. Two-thirds of users studied complained about font sizes being too small or frozen from being resized.

What’s worse, we can assume that most people probably don’t know that you can increase font size using browser controls, let alone knowing how to do it.

Screen resolutions are increasing, but web sites’ font sizes aren’t

Currently, the most used monitor resolution is 1024 x 768. Sites like Yahoo! and Apple have responded by widening their sites’ layouts. But it’s been rare to find sites that have increased their font sizes along with it. (To be fair to Yahoo!, their site layout scales very well when you resize the text using your browser’s controls.)

The sad thing is that these sites are using this new space to add complexity to their layouts. Designs are becoming busier, not bigger.

Don’t bastardize the web as a medium

I know where this comes from. Graphic designers are taught how to design for print in school. They are used to doing page layout for magazines and newspapers, which naturally have higher resolutions and have fixed dimensions. If you use the equivalent of 8 point Verdana for your web site font, you can fit content in easier and make everything look like a magazine layout.

The problem is that web users want to control their own destiny. They want to resize their fonts, and they don’t care about the designer’s control over the layout’s look. They have their monitor, not someone else’s. So be flexible. Learn to compromise the look of your pages so that your visitors can use whatever their investment in computing will allow them to.

[1]: This blog doesn’t existing anymore, so I link to the Wayback Machine archive.

Written by Chris Peters, your friendly neighborhood digital marketing professional with over 20 years of experience of web design, programming, SEO, and marketing.