the problem with fonts

A List Apart’s font switcher is a great explanation of EXACTLY what we went through on B&A. Sometimes […]

A List Apart’s font switcher is a great explanation of EXACTLY what we went through on B&A. Sometimes B&A’s “large font version” is smaller than the regular version, simply because large font is em’s. and em’s are… well… unpredicatable. EH is in em’s (you’re soaking in it!) but it’s a personal site and I can torture my readers as i see fit. (and you complain with equal joy!)

B&A has certain goals to meet and px were sort of what we got stuck with. (long story. don’t ask)

I pray every night now for the next generation of browsers to use standard code, but hey, what’s the odds of that?

Until then i guess it’s up to us to try to invent things like the “large font version”, IHT’s scalable fonts and so on to try to treat our readers right.

One more thing… several people have written to me to ask why have a “large font version” when I could just use em’s. Well, other than em’s lively behavior, I’ve seen in many many many usability tests (including the ones we just did this week) that the bulk of surfers have no idea how to change their font size. So when they come to a site that is hard to read, they just leave.

So if your audience is not made up of web professionals, consider adding a clearly labeled large font version. If IE and Netscape aren’t going to do the right thing, I suppose it’s up to us.


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  1. 1

    I’m wondering if it’s possible to change the browser text size (through the the menu command) dynamically through the browser object? If it’s possible to do that and then educate the user how it works (so in the future they can change it themselves), it sounds like a great alternative to me. Any thoughts? Can any DHTML guru’s out there tell me if that’s possible?

  2. 3

    If most surfers don’t know how to change the font size in their browsers, then surely the nice thing to do would be to tell them.

    By solving a problem that really isn’t your responsibility you’re reducing the (admittedly small) incentive that the browser makers have to improve the UI of their software, you’re adding needless complexity to your site (and bugs as well — last time I visited B&A it kept on switching me back to the small fonts version), and furthermore you don’t really solve the root cause of the surfer’s problems. Give a man a fish, and all that…

    The alternative, linking to a page that gave step-by-step instructions on how to change font sizes, would be far simpler to implement, far less bug-prone, and much more helpful to the user in the long run.

  3. 4

    Oh, B&A bugs is my fault; I’ve doen an inadequate job of implementing it. but I’ll be debuggin this weekend, i hope. We are under-volunteered, but i hope that will be fixed soon also. A real funded website shouldn’t have these problems.

    As for the rest: browser makes implemented ems badly, then hid the tool to use them. they suck. But users shoudln’t suffer.. you cna show a user how to resize, but then 9 times out of ten it won’t work. the decent thing is to build an alterntive within your site.

    And I’d say giving people access to my site, to my writings even if they are shockingly nearsighted is my responsibility. even if I suck at it, I’ll try.

  4. 5

    I don’t mean to be evil, but I actually think that users should suffer. After all, they chose to use a browser with pathetic CSS support and a UI so impenetrable that even fundamentals like changing the font size are beyond them.

    Ok, in truth its a little more complicated than that. But I believe that people need to learn that they have a choice in the software they use. Otherwise we’ll continue to be stuck with the crap that most people use today.

    At the very least people need to learn how to change the fonts in their browsers. They’ll have to learn sooner or later, because I’m certainly not going to start messing around with javascript or even alter my XSLT to generate two sites (neither of which will satisfy the more extreme cases) just to do the job that the browser makers should’ve done. I’m not going to do it, and neither are 90% of web developers.

    You say that 9 times out of 10 the instructions to change the font size won’t work. I reckon that’s a significantly higher success rate than I’ve seen on sites that tried to do it for me.

    While I believe that sites should be accessible, I divide up the responsibilities differently.

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