font sizes – relative or absolute

Jakob Nielson wants users to be able to control their own font sizes, but that’s easier said than done. I made all of the font sizes relative on my site, but it was a different size depending on the browser and OS. I don’t like the idea of forcing a certain size font on everyone, but I also don’t want my page to look screwy on different browsers. After testing on a myriad of browsers, Zeldman concluded that absolute fonts were the only way to guarantee your site looked correct.

People who recommend relative font sizes claim you’re missing out on hundreds of thousands of visitors, but I’m not convinced. While I can see that people may have a hard time reading the page, wouldn’t they be using other means to make the text look bigger? In Opera, you can magnify the entire page, to the point that a single sentence fills the entire screen. If you can’t see well, you probably use a low screen resolution to make the text larger. Additionally, most operating systems have built-in features for the sight-impaired, much like a magnifying glass is used to read a book.

After writing the above argument I continued working on the font sizes and believe the site now looks half-decent in most browsers. I’m not entirely pleased, but I’m thinking of redoing the site using style sheets instead of tables, so I’ll leave it for now. During the process of resizing the fonts, I created this font size page to see how the different font-size options compared. It came in handy.


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  1. I hear ya! I just changed all of my font-sizes to “%” instead of “large”, “small”. It just wasn’t working between browsers.

    Comment by jason on April 7, 2003 @ 10:46 am

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