[linux-elitists] A modest proposal to web designers of the world (was Re: Site feedback: fonts too small)

Karsten M. Self kmself@ix.netcom.com
Wed May 16 13:42:37 PDT 2001

on Tue, May 15, 2001 at 03:55:02PM +0000, webmaster (webmaster@economist.com) wrote:
> Thank you for your mail.
> Patricia Kliman
> The site doesn't set an explicit font size. The preferred font is set
> to Verdana, with a choice of alternatives if this is not available.
> Because Verdana is a large font the site also requests that it be made
> slightly smaller than the browser would normally show it.

In which case there is a problem in that Verdana is either not widely
available or is inconsistantly rendered across platforms.  I realize the
arguments in favor of using Verdana and other designed-for-the-screen
fonts, but frankly, readability arguments fall flat in the face of the
obvious:  they're not readable except on a specially targetted set of

> You should be able to change the font by way of your browser 
> preferences.

I can scale fonts for specific sites.  I can't, readily, tailor fonts to
make your site readable by default.

As it's the web designers of the world who are cramming specialized
fontsets down our throats, I'd suggest that it be the web designers of
the world who research, and publicize generally, how these fonts can be
configured for optimal performance on a wide range of platforms.  I'm a
reasonably proficient, long-term, GNU/Linux user.  I've used the
platform for the past four years.  I've had problems rendering fonts
since world+dog decided that times size=3 wasn't good enough.  I've yet
to see a concise set of instructions and/or configurations for remedying
this situation, across a broad scope of GNU/Linux and *BSD
distributions, and of browser options (Netscape, Mozilla and
derivatives, Konqueror, Opera).  The world's going to get more, not
less, diverse in this regard.

I'd strongly recommend you pass the following link around your design


    "This page optimized for ..."
    - arguing with customers -
    by Jahn Rentmeister

    This page dates back from September 1996, and a lot has happened
    since then. Some changes have been made to this text, especially in
    the section of examples, where I tried to reflect changes on the
    example sites. From my point of view, the state of the Web has
    improved a lot since I wrote this article, so you might find the
    discussion exaggerated or unnecessary (although I think it still

I like the Economist.  I appreciate it.  I pick up the odd newsstand
copy, and have subscribed at various times through the years.  It's one
of the few weekly news magazines I find readable, let alone worthwhile
(American press is simply pathetic in this regard).  I read it online
(now on my daily bookmarks list).  There's a frank, realistic, cut
through the BS mentality that the magazine has.  It would be nice to see
the same clarity reflected in the presentation quality of its website,
by a proper understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses of the

Another site I've read through the years (though quality has fallen
drastically) is InfowWorld.  They've recently re-done their front page
-- small fonts, grey, red-on-dark-grey navigation.  The nadir of
readability.  One reader's comment:

    But _please_ stop shrinking and fading the news -- you're a web
    site, not a washing machine.^2@.ee7527f/20@!skip=21&look=single


> I hope this helps 

Not much.

> With kind regards
> Patricia Kliman
> Economist.com
> Original Message Follows: 
> -------------------------
> Just a general feedback comment.  The font sizes used on
> http://www.economist.com/ are too small for comfortable reading unless
> increased to 120% or better of normal.  Screenshot attached.
> Fix this.

Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>    http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?       There is no K5 cabal
  http://gestalt-system.sourceforge.net/         http://www.kuro5hin.org
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