Using 10 pixel Verdana made sense in a time when screens were 640 pixels wide. Today it is a mistake.
There are some great arguments for small font sizes. Here are the top three:
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- With smaller type sizes we can avoid scrolling
- We can always adjust the font size
- Busy pages covey rich content, they look more professional
If you use small type because you want to spare us from scrolling: Relax, scrolling is fine. Flipping pages in books is fine, too. Being able to read the text is key. Telling your reader to “get glasses” is funny—especially if they already wear them. But designing bent over with your face glued to the screen is bad for your back; try leaning back and continue designing in a relaxed position. Your designs will be more relaxed, and so will you.
Sure, people can adjust the font size, but do you want to? Do you want to adjust your car seat every time you get in? Expecting your users to zoom in every time puts them in a similar position. Adjusting the font size beyond matters of sheer accessibility can be a delicate matter, and most users are not typographic specialists. The type size a designer chooses should have little to do with taste or personal prevalence. Unless you have diminished eye sight, the readability of a typeface finds its optimum in a narrower range than one might think.
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Throwing all kinds of information at the user is lazy, and makes for a disorienting experience. We are paid to think about the content, and make choices between what is important and what isn’t.
Five Simple Rules
1. Standard font size for long texts
To realize how small the text is on many websites, compare to a book that you feel comfortable reading, then change the font size until the type on the book and the screen are about the same size:
It will look big if you hold the book right next to the screen, but it will look fine if you hold the book at a comfortable reading distance. Congratulations, you’ve probably ended up at about the browser default of 100%, if not larger. As long as you respect the reading distance, this works across devices too.
Initially it is more difficult to create a visually pleasing layout with a bigger font size, but that challenge will help you design a simpler, clearer site. Anyone can cram a page with information, but making it simple and easy-to-use is hard. At first, you will be shocked how big the default text is. But after a day you won’t want to see anything smaller, and you quickly realize why all browsers use the default text size.
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