Readable text

Saturday 24 November 2001

I wrote to Andy Crewdson in April to thank him for the enjoyment I’d had from lines and splines, his typography weblog.


I told him I enjoyed the content and layout, but I found the text a bit small for easy reading​—​his style sheet specified Georgia at font-size: 11 px, giving an x height on my screen of slightly more than a millimetre. He replied:

Dear Peter,

Thanks very much for your email. I have in fact suspected for a while now that the type was too small
. I think I’ve become accustomed to it​—​there’s a definite trend (at least on the sites I read) toward small type on the web.

So, at your instigation, I’ve changed it to 12 pt Georgia. Looks fine to me.. and now that I think about it, I remember seeing someone link to my site with a similar comment attached about how the type was too small. I’d definitely rather err on the side of more legible than less.

I was pleased with Andy’s response, and interested in his observation of small type on sites he reads. Yes, I notice that sites with a focus on web design tend in that direction. Jason Kottke’s site has body text with font-size: 11px Verdana​—​he recently did a smart redesign of the obscure store and reading room and specified 11 pixel Georgia body type. Users’ comments on the redesign were generally positive, but quite a few people commented on the poor readability of the text. Some of these comments blamed the serifed type, but I think display size is the basic problem.

When web designers dictate points or pixels, they disable the normal browser control of type size. Why do designers insist? When they can’t know the state of the readers’ eyesight, or the state of their computers? Do they think everyone has a sharp young pair of eyes and a sharp young screen? If only!

For marking time I have specified Georgia at 80% of normal size, whatever it is. With a ‘relative’ specification like this, it will respond to browser text size settings​—​web designers are welcome to reduce the display size; grizzled old farts can do the other.

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