What's the right default font size for a website?

10 Sep 2008 - 1:28am
5 years ago
16 replies
8524 reads
netwiz
2010

Is there any research on font sizes? Yes, you should build your site
so users can change the size, but in reality many who would benefit
from doing so don't know that you can, even if you provide the tools.

You need to start with an appropriate default. What should that
default be?
* Nick Gassman - Usability and Standards Manager - http://ba.com *
* I vote for reply-to to go to the list*

Comments

10 Sep 2008 - 4:47am
Yohan Creemers
2008

Hi Nick,

It depends of course on the target group and the intended purpose of
the site.
Furthermore it depends on font (serif requires a larger font-size
than sans-serif), character set (Arabic requires a larger font-size
than Latin) and contrast between text and background.

As default for a mainstream website I use 0.8em (font-size: small)
for a sans-serif font on screen. With the browser set to normal
text-size this resembles 13px (about 10pt).

As default for a web application or a website that focuses on images
I use 0.7em for a sans-serif. This resembles 11px (about 8.25pt) and
is also the default size used by the Windows OS.

For prints I set the font-size to 10pt for a sans-serif font.

Font-sizes are easy to test in a usability test and easy to adjust to
the test results.

Yohan
Ylab, designers for interaction
www.ylab.nl

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10 Sep 2008 - 10:55am
Benjamin Ho
2007

>From HFI - 14 pt in Helvetica or Arial.

Interesting how most websites are built less than 14pt.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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10 Sep 2008 - 11:01am
Elizabeth Buie
2004

I always use 1em as the default, and define other sizes relative to that. That takes its cues from the user's preferences (whether the user changes the browser settings or not).

Elizabeth

--
Elizabeth Buie
Luminanze Consulting, LLC
tel +1.301.943.4168 (US)
tel +39.347.394.7022 (Italia)
fax +1.301.949.9694 (US only)
www.luminanze.com

10 Sep 2008 - 11:25am
bminihan
2007

We start with 1em on our site as well, and reduce from there down to
90% and 80%, depending on the context. I try not to have too many
different sizes in play throughout the site, but 1em seems to fit our
audience: a mix of teenagers and older folks whose visual abilities we
can't really predict.

At my last company (a large pharma corp) I raised a huge ruckus in
changing our font sizes from 8pt to font-size:small (actually,
x-small in quirks mode, which looks like 12pt in IE 6). Anyway, the
stakeholders claimed I was crazy and they'd get a ton of complaints
that the fonts were too big, when over the next 4 years all we ever
heard was appreciation that we'd finally made the portal legible and
(better yet) customizable with browser preferences.

With relative fonts, we do still get the occasional complaint that
our fonts are WAAAY TOO BIG. Every one of those turns out to be from
someone who didn't realize their browser text-size was set to extra
large, and every one appreciated finding that out. Guess when a site
is in the minority appreciating the user's control of his
environment, it can be surprising.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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10 Sep 2008 - 10:04am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Sep 10, 2008, at 2:47 AM, Yohan Creemers wrote:

> Font-sizes are easy to test in a usability test and easy to adjust to
> the test results.

This is where one of the big benefits of remote testing come through:
You can see the user's screen and browser configurations, to see if
they have adjusted their resolution or are using any of the zooming
capabilities of the system.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

10 Sep 2008 - 1:37pm
Jeff Seager
2007

I use 1em except when specifying Verdana, which reads well for most
people at 0.8em. For what it's worth, I've seen several studies
naming the most readable screen fonts as Verdana, Arial, Rockwell and
Georgia.

I still go with the old-school notion that serif fonts are easier to
read on paper, so my print stylesheets usually set body copy in
Georgia or Times New Roman at 10, 11 or 12 points.

I see it as my job to make it possible for people to resize type, but
I won't add redundant controls or alternative stylesheets to do so.
Maybe I'm just stubborn, but I expect users to learn to use their
tools.

Looks like some comprehensive research on this topic is underway in
the UK:
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article4642.asp
http://www.message.uk.com/textprefs/

When that study is complete, we should have a large enough sampling
to give us more information about the broad spectrum of user
preferences.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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10 Sep 2008 - 2:50pm
netwiz
2010

On Wed, 10 Sep 2008 02:47:20, Yohan wrote:

>Furthermore it depends on font (serif requires a larger font-size
>than sans-serif), character set (Arabic requires a larger font-size
>than Latin) and contrast between text and background.

We use Verdana.
* Nick Gassman - Usability and Standards Manager - http://ba.com *
* I vote for reply-to to go to the list*

10 Sep 2008 - 2:53pm
Santiago Bustelo
2010

Nothing beats 2em wingdings.

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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10 Sep 2008 - 4:29pm
Sterling Koch
2008

I'd be interested to find if anyone else found the study mentioned below a bit flawed in its method (http://www.message.uk.com/textprefs/).

In my opinion, going from top to bottom, there's too many variables to handle at once. I found it frustrating to change my column width, then the font size, then the line-height (which made me actually like a different font size), then to change the font, which seemed to wipe out my font size and line-height settings from before.

Maybe it's just that the font I selected happens to handle line-height and font-size differently, but I found it rather distracting and I gave up rather than going back to fix the other settings again to work with the font.

As happy as I was that someone was doing something to move beyond purely anecdotal evidence on the subject of screen font readability, the study itself was frustrating enough to create some flawed data (if users ever actual get to the point where they're ready to submit their data). My suggestion: one variable at a time, please.

- Sterling

----- Original Message ----
From: Jeff Seager <abrojos at hotmail.com>
To: discuss at ixda.org
Sent: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 11:37:56 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] What's the right default font size for a website?

I use 1em except when specifying Verdana, which reads well for most
people at 0.8em. For what it's worth, I've seen several studies
naming the most readable screen fonts as Verdana, Arial, Rockwell and
Georgia.

I still go with the old-school notion that serif fonts are easier to
read on paper, so my print stylesheets usually set body copy in
Georgia or Times New Roman at 10, 11 or 12 points.

I see it as my job to make it possible for people to resize type, but
I won't add redundant controls or alternative stylesheets to do so.
Maybe I'm just stubborn, but I expect users to learn to use their
tools.

Looks like some comprehensive research on this topic is underway in
the UK:
http://www.usabilitynews.com/news/article4642.asp
http://www.message.uk.com/textprefs/

When that study is complete, we should have a large enough sampling
to give us more information about the broad spectrum of user
preferences.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=32812

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10 Sep 2008 - 5:18pm
Caroline Jarrett
2007

Sterling Koch:

> I'd be interested to find if anyone else found the study mentioned
> below a bit flawed in its method
> (http://www.message.uk.com/textprefs/).
>
> In my opinion, going from top to bottom, there's too many variables to
> handle at once.

Isn't that really the essence of the font selection problem? That is,
legibility is affected by all these things (and probably some more):

- familiarity of the font
- amount of visual complexity of the font (serifs, variation of stroke
width, slope, size of counters, slope of counters relative to font, etc etc)
- the way the type is set (leading, line lengths, space between paragraphs,
space between words, kerning or not of letters, etc etc)
- the display or print medium (large or small screen, moving or static
screen etc etc)
- the lighting (ambient, direct, glare, back-lit, etc etc)
- the user's abilities, task, and motivation.

I tried the textprefs thing. Fun to experiment with, but what about the
ability to change to a more representative text? What about the user's task:
did we need to proof-read it, get a sense of the topic communicated, decide
whether to skip reading it, etc etc?

I believe that the aim of the original question in this thread was to pick
the best starting size of font and then provide features to allow users to
adjust from there. Good idea.

But I don't believe that research will ever tell us 'the best' answer. The
typography research just doesn't deliver. There are too many variables that
affect the problem, and to conduct the research there is inevitably too much
simplification to help.

So, we rely on craft, tips, and good old fashioned testing with our target
users.

My personal tip:
- go at least one, and possibly two, sizes larger than you think you need.

In tests, many, many participants have complained to me "That's too small".
Right across all ages, tasks, abilities. So far, I haven't had anyone
complain "that's too large". (It will come - eventually - and more quickly
if all I can persuade a few more clients and colleagues to try my tip. Well,
that's what I've been hoping for a few years now but ain't happened yet).

And of course, I applaud all the recommendations to size in ems rather than
fixed.

Best
Caroline

10 Sep 2008 - 7:57am
Jesse Zolna
2008

Hi,
I don't know the research or have any citations, but I believe the research essentially says: bigger font is easier to read and/or is read faster. Of course, you are trading off large font size with fitting more information into your text region or above the fold, or whatever your constraints are. I think getting your content so that it fits into your overall design scheme and makes for a good user experience is the main issue you need to consider and/or test. Not to mention that my very general statement must be taken with a grain of salt, as *extremely* large font might be disconcerting to users.

Most sites set the font pretty small. Hopefully someone who really needs enlarged font (e.g., w/ low vision) has set their browser to change the font across the board. Therefore, sticking with convention - assuming you want your site to be conventional in this way - seems advisable. If your site is aimed at helping ppl with low vision adjust thier browser settings, well, you probobly would start with larger font.

Yohan's guidelines seem about right, but I would use a serif-font for printed materials.

-Jesse

----- Original Message ----
From: Nick Gassman <nick at netwiz.demon.co.uk>
To: IXDA list <discuss at ixda.org>
Sent: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 2:28:45 AM
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] What's the right default font size for a website?

Is there any research on font sizes? Yes, you should build your site
so users can change the size, but in reality many who would benefit
from doing so don't know that you can, even if you provide the tools.

You need to start with an appropriate default. What should that
default be?
* Nick Gassman - Usability and Standards Manager - http://ba.com *
* I vote for reply-to to go to the list*
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

10 Sep 2008 - 10:55am
Matthew Anderson
2008

The default font size for newer browsers is 16px. But it is best to work in em units. Recommended reading:

http://www.jameswhittaker.com/blog/article/em-based-layouts-vertical-rhythm-calculator/

Matt Anderson
Senior User Experience Designer
Citrix Online

On 9/9/08 11:28 PM, "Nick Gassman" <nick at netwiz.demon.co.uk> wrote:

Is there any research on font sizes? Yes, you should build your site
so users can change the size, but in reality many who would benefit
from doing so don't know that you can, even if you provide the tools.

You need to start with an appropriate default. What should that
default be?
* Nick Gassman - Usability and Standards Manager - http://ba.com *
* I vote for reply-to to go to the list*
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

10 Sep 2008 - 2:34pm
Matthew Anderson
2008

The default font size for newer browsers is 16px. But it is best to
work in em units. Recommended reading:

http://www.jameswhittaker.com/blog/article/em-based-layouts-vertical-rhythm-calculator/

Matt Anderson
Senior User Experience Designer
Citrix Online

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=32812

11 Sep 2008 - 8:55am
Bill Caemmerer
2008

A List Apart has some great articles on
http://www.alistapart.com/topics/design/typography/ web typography ...
particularly " http://www.alistapart.com/articles/howtosizetextincss How to
Size Text in CSS ", which explains how you can set your type as a percentage
of the user's default font size by using the "ems" measurement, and gives
complete css as well. Similar to the
http://www.jameswhittaker.com/blog/article/em-based-layouts-vertical-rhythm-calculator/
Whitaker article posted earlier. They also have a discussion of how to
solve cross-browser issues so you can use font keywords, in an article
called " http://www.alistapart.com/articles/sizematters/ CSS Design: Size
Matters ."
--
View this message in context: http://www.nabble.com/What%27s-the-right-default-font-size-for-a-website--tp19407061p19435311.html
Sent from the ixda.org - discussion list mailing list archive at Nabble.com.

24 Sep 2008 - 5:05pm
Marty DeAngelo
2007

Coming in from an old post...

I find that most sites that have Helvetica as their main font to be
really hard to read. I have Helvetica on my machine, but it really
doesn't seem to translate to web well, especially at smaller font sizes?
Does anyone else see this?

Marty DeAngelo

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
Benjamin Ho
Sent: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4:56 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] What's the right default font size for a
website?

>From HFI - 14 pt in Helvetica or Arial.

Interesting how most websites are built less than 14pt.

27 Sep 2008 - 3:57pm
Micah Freedman
2008

If Helvetica is specified as the first font in a CSS list, it looks great on
macs, but lousy on PCs (at least PCs running XP, I haven't seen vista much).
Sadly, for a general purpose site, it's better to use "arial, helvetica,
sans-serif". I haven't really tested it much, but one way around that might
be to use helvetica neue as the first font, since it's prevalent on macs,
but not on pcs....

On Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 6:05 PM, Marty DeAngelo
<mdeangel at digitashealth.com>wrote:

> Coming in from an old post...
>
> I find that most sites that have Helvetica as their main font to be
> really hard to read. I have Helvetica on my machine, but it really
> doesn't seem to translate to web well, especially at smaller font sizes?
> Does anyone else see this?
>
> Marty DeAngelo
>
>

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