On paper, you are probably using 12-point type as the standard. That's a good idea for the web, too. It's still more difficult to read from the screen than from paper, so making the type at least as large as what people see on paper is a good idea. (A book like this one can use smaller type because it is printed at extremely high resolution. Typical output from a desktop printer is 600 dots per inch. Typical screen resolution is on the order of 100 dots per inch.)
If your audience is predominantly teenagers or 20-somethings, you can probably use the equivalent of 10-point type as your default, but be sure it is resizable for other site visitors. If your audience is predominantly older, you might want to set the default at the equivalent of 14-point type, again making it resizable.
Many content writers, visual designers, and developers creating web sites today are young and have great eyesight. If that's you, think of your parents and grandparents. Look around and notice how many people wear eyeglasses. Vision declines with age. Make the default type size large enough so that people want to stay on your site and read your content.
Adjust your content so that you can use large enough type and get your message into the space you have
On the web, you are balancing how much to say and the type size for saying it. If you have only a certain amount of screen real estate for your content, you either have to write fewer words or make the type smaller. That's a good reason to let go of the words and focus on your key messages.
Use relative type size so that people can adjust it for their own needs. For example, you can specify type as percentages. Headings should always be larger than the regular text, so you might set a level-one heading as 150 percent of the regular text and a level-two heading as 125 percent of the regular text. (That would be equivalent to having 18-point level-one headings and 15-point level-two headings with 12-point text. Separating heading levels by about 3 points works well.)
Make it easy for people to adjust the type by giving them buttons on the web page. Many sites now do this, as Wired Magazine has for several years. (See Figure 7-15.) Most people do not know that they can do it with the browser controls, and, even for those who do know, the buttons are a clear indication that a site has this feature, a reminder that they can adjust the size, and an easy way to do it.
Make all the text adjust, not just the main content area
All the text on the web page should get larger or smaller as people adjust the type size. On many sites, unfortunately, only the main content area adjusts with these changes, not the side columns of navigation and other information. But navigation is also critical. Don't make people squint - or leave your site - because they can't read the sides of your pages. Also make sure that your page is still usable when people enlarge the type. For example, make sure that people can still get to the control of a drop-down box and that they can still use the fields in your online forms.
Was this article helpful?