Six Years Later And Some Websites Are Still Using 12px Font Size

I try not to interweave my day to day life into this blog but today is an exception to the rule. Recently, my optician informed me I needed a stronger prescription; in fact, I needed to begin using progressive lenses. Consequently, I’m acutely aware of how much worse my eyesight is now compared to, say, six years ago when I published the first article about the need for arts organizations to begin using larger font sizes.

typographyThe good news is it has been some time since I ran across anyone using headache inducing tiny font sizes, but that stretch was broken this weekend after coming across a site still using 12px font size for all standard body copy.

There’s no need pointing out who, but this is a good reminder to look at your own websites. Whether you have someone in-house or a third-party provider, ask them to do an audit of your standard body copy and identify anything under 16px for web safe fonts (Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Courier, Times New Roman, Georgia, etc.).

For most font families, 16px is a good minimum font size for standard body copy. There are always a few outliers and if you use a proprietary font family or anything from open source resources, like Google Fonts, you may need to tweak the size a bit.

If you’re still unsure about how much of a difference font size makes, here’s an example, starting off with the font size and family from the site I came across last weekend:

Text at 12px Arial:

For text-heavy pages, larger font sizes work best. If folks are reading for long periods of time, be thoughtful and don’t make them strain their eyes. Now, each font is different, even at the same size, but we’re talking:

  • 16px: absolute minimum for text-heavy pages.
  • 18px: a better font size to start with. Remember, your site visitors are engaging your content a few feet from their monitors or only a foot or less on mobile devices.
  • 20px and larger: may feel awkwardly large at first but is tends to work great, especially for serif fonts. The best-looking text-heavy site on the web, Medium, has a default article text size of 21px using the web safe Georgia font family.

Here It Is Again at 16px Arial:

For text-heavy pages, larger font sizes work best. If folks are reading for long periods of time, be thoughtful and don’t make them strain their eyes. Now, each font is different, even at the same size, but we’re talking:

  • 16px: absolute minimum for text-heavy pages.
  • 18px: a better font size to start with. Remember, your site visitors are engaging your content a few feet from their monitors or only a foot or less on mobile devices.
  • 20px and larger: may feel awkwardly large at first but is tends to work great, especially for serif fonts. The best-looking text-heavy site on the web, Medium, has a default article text size of 21px using the web safe Georgia font family.

Once Again, With Feeling, At 21px Arial:

For text-heavy pages, larger font sizes work best. If folks are reading for long periods of time, be thoughtful and don’t make them strain their eyes. Now, each font is different, even at the same size, but we’re talking:

  • 16px: absolute minimum for text-heavy pages.
  • 18px: a better font size to start with. Remember, your site visitors are engaging your content a few feet from their monitors or only a foot or less on mobile devices.
  • 20px and larger: may feel awkwardly large at first but is tends to work great, especially for serif fonts. The best-looking text-heavy site on the web, Medium, has a default article text size of 21px using the web safe Georgia font family.

Pretty obvious when looking at them side by side, no?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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