Point size fonts
By Virtual Mechanics
| Despite the great advances
in technology that CSS and DHTML provide they are hindered with
a lot of baggage. The most obvious is the fact that they were
built on top of HTML which for all of its original innovation,
was never intended to provide interactive dynamic content. Two-way
transmission of interactive information using human readable
alphanumeric codes is extremely cumbersome. That is one reason
why Microsoft likes to push Active X and Direct X. (Their proprietary
nature is another.)
Another form of baggage that DHTML/CSS is hindered with is human
dogma. I wrote an article several months ago about how fast
your web pages should load. The common dogma measures this in
seconds. In my opinion, that is a very superficial way to design
a web page. If you are interested, you can read the article
When HTML was first developed, the standard way to change font
sizes was with the <big> and <small> tags. If you
want <big>large text</big> or <big><big>very
large text</big></big> simply add these
tags at the appropriate locations. Give it a try. They still
But just how big is <big>? It is simply bigger
than what ever went before.
When the primary motive for having an HTML page was to display
articles written by technical specialists, this level of text
formatting was fine. As web sites were developed for more general
uses especially business and entertainment, this level of formatting
simply became inadequate.
The next advance was with the use of the Font and Font Size
tags that can specify text size in absolute numbers. <Font
Size="3">This text is smaller</Font<>Font
Size="4">than this text</Font>.
But how much smaller? Size "3" is generally considered to be
equivalent to 12 Point. But what is a Point?
Point - Smallest typographical unit of measurement; 12 points
= 1 pica, and 1 point = approximately 1/72 of an Inc. Type is
measured in terms of points. From: http://www.designfactorynet.com/dfi6000/gloss_p.html
Isn't a Pica something from Pokemon?
Point size is a term that was derived from typesetting where
a printing press was loaded with standard size characters or
type. Typesetting is a technology of the past that has little
significance in today's modern printing houses. Although Point
size is still a quantifiable term for printing, it never was
for web design. The fact is that a 12 point font is going to
be bigger or smaller from one computer monitor to another based
upon many different variable.
With CSS more advanced font formatting capabilities were introduced.
Font formatting and Font size in particular is
significant. In addition to selecting point size fonts it is
now possible to select pixel size fonts or screen size fonts
that are created relative to the display settings. To use pixel
size for example, you can enter: <font style="size:20px;">This
text is exactly 20 pixels high</font>. At least
it is in theory.
What are the advantages of using Pixel or Screen size fonts
instead of Point size? The most significant is design control.
A Point size font is a completely unknown design element. Depending
on their screen resolution, available fonts and system font
size setting, a Point size block of text can occupy almost any
amount of screen real estate. A common problem when using
CSS with Point size fonts is caused when the page is designed
with small system fonts but viewed on a system with large system
fonts selected. This can cause blocks of text to overlap and
become unreadable, a problem that I have even seen on some very
large professional sites.
The alternative is to design the page with large fonts selected
but this can make the blocks of text appear small and isolated
on many systems. Other alternatives are to design the web page
with a single block of text or to insert the text into Tables.
Both solutions can severely restrict design options.
So why do so many Web Design references suggest that Point size
fonts be used instead of Pixel size?
I suspect that it is primarily a case of Internet Dogma. "That
is the way it was designed to be used and consequently that
is the way it should be used"; even though it may be an intolerable
handicap for a designer.
When a reason is given it is usually that a web design should
not interfere with the personal settings of the visitor. People
with visual problems especially, may have their computer set
to help them effectively see the text. No one after all, wants
to be accused of being inconsiderate to the visually impaired.
Although the sentiment is valid, the issue is whether or not
a 125% font size is the correct solution. The fact is that if
you are using 8 point fonts they are still likely to be too
small for the visually impaired even when large system fonts
are being used. There are much better solutions for people with
visual problems. An obvious one is to use a larger monitor if
possible. If not, the monitor resolution can be set lower. Both
solutions provide significant advantages over traditional print
media that does not offer either.
The notion that a reader could change the font size in a magazine
but still have it fit the page is silly. It would result in
overlapping text which would be very difficult to read and almost
impossible to design effectively. This is exactly the problem
experienced by web designers using Point size fonts.
So what if a small Pixel size fonts is used and a visually impaired
viewer only has a small monitor, does not know how to change
the system resolution and does not have a magnifying glass?
The answer can be expressed in the form of another question.
What if a designer is inclined to use bright blue text on a
bright red background? Is the best solution to only allow monochrome
displays? Both are examples of a bad design. The job of a good
designer is to ensure that every potential visitor's needs are
accounted for. The best way to do that is to provide a
design environment that does not impose cumbersome design restrictions.
Point Size fonts work well with simple web pages. With advanced
web sites that take full advantage of CSS and Dynamic HTML,
point size fonts can create unanticipated problems and interfere
with the objectives of the designer. Pixel or Screen size fonts
provide much better control for the designer provided they remain
aware of their visitors needs.
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