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Something to think about... / blog
Font Size Widgets and Font Sizes of the Future

Written by on April 28, 2004

Keith, over at Asterisk* asked the interesting question of the usefulness of font-size widgets. Those little things you can use to adjust the font size of your web page.

I have always thought that "font size widgets" was a crazy designer idea - of which nobody really has any use for.

The reasons are many:

  1. If it is there, you already have a problem.
  2. It is often placed in rather obscure position of the site, it is too small to notice, use symbols which you cannot understand, or all of the above.
  3. It is a narrow-minded approach (works only for your site, not the next one your reader is visiting).
  4. Nobody want to spend their time adjusting websites - they come to read what you publish, not fiddle with settings (that is a geek thing). This is why style-switchers are of little use too.

Some might say "my site is already made with relative font sizes - it is just an extra feature". True, but it still does not work. If a font-size widget could alter the overall browser setting, then it would be useful.

What we really need, and what I think would work, is a guideline for displaying content - a visual specification - which basically states that, by default, body text should be this size, h1 should be that size, h2 should be this etc.


Base size = 11pt

  • H1 = 1.6em
  • h2 = 1.5em
  • h3 = 1.4em
  • h4 = 1.2em
  • h5 = 1.1em
  • h6 = 1.1em
  • p = 1em
  • etc.

And, we would have a validator to check if our site is adhering to these specifications.

Ideally, this would be incorporated as a standard into future browsers - so that setting font-sizes at all would be a thing of the past.

Just the same as we have all agreed on making sites according to the XHTML/CSS specification, we should also agree on a visual specification - and for all the same reason. We use XHTML to make our sites better in terms of accessibility, structure, ease of use, and speed. We should apply a visual specification to make our sites better in terms of accessibility, speed, ease of use, and content.

We have gone a long way from non-structured markup - to structured markup. Now we need move above the "surface" and make our visual representation consistent too.

PS: I can already hear the roar from the design community :)

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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