Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The case for concrete sizing

What people have to say about "points" in Web typography. Points...
  • are a "standard method" for print typography
  • may be more legible in print, less legible on screen
  • and page resizing may not work consistently in certain browsers
  • are not relative to changes in base font-size (smallest, smaller, ... larger, largest) 
OK, so I'm seeing the real problem here: lots and lots of Web designers are mixing the metaphors of Web layout as a formatting process and Web layout as an interface specification. 

Don't do that. 

If you are going to design liquid layouts with relative sizes, by all means, go ahead and play. Your designs are going to be beautiful, but then again no design on the Web belongs to the author. A design is always the merging of the intentions of the author with the choices of the user, within the limitations of a browser. So all that pains-taking is going to look great, but we know that by design it is guaranteed to break. 

The thing is, points mean something objectively. In modern typography they have been defined to mean 1/72 of an inch. Yes, that's an English measure, the only widely used measurement system based upon human factors. Like our calendar it is entirely based upon the pragmatic considerations western civilization determined centuries ago. It is flawed and odd, but it is objective and well grounded in our experience.

So, tell me again, why do we want to measure fonts in pixels or percents, when we want our designs to be accessible to humans?

Incidentally, the argument against points on the basis that Web typography must deal with multiple device formats and layouts, is fundamentally flawed. The world of print typography has far more media formats than Web browsing devices can shake a stick at, ranging from huge to tiny, and on many different types of substrates. Points work precisely because they are an objective measure that can be directly multiplied by a unitless ratio for scaling, and thus do not need to be re-interpreted for each formatting context. 

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