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Why is Tiny Type Cool?
rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 3:33 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Why do good designers tend to use ultra-tiny fonts? In visiting high-design content sites - sites of graphic designers, artists, architects, etc. - there is a tendency to use really tiny type (often in graphic form rather than text form). After seeing pixelsurgeon mentioned in another thread as an example of great design, I checked it out and found lots of tiny type, including a column of links that was truly illegible.

The weird thing is, I'm part of the problem. If I see a site with a big Times New Roman H1 tag, my first thought isn't how easy to read it is... instead, I think, "must be that guy's first attempt at web design..." And when I see a red background with some big, bold images and a tiny row of yellow type in the middle, I think, "they hired a design pro for this job".

Do our brains interpret small type in funky fonts and colors as "high design content" just because simple HTML pages don't normally incorporate that look? It seems like the less usable the page is, the "better" the design looks. If I'm working on a design, the left side of my brain is telling me to use simple, readable, user-resizable text while the right side is whispering, "ugly! ugly!"...

 

pat_s

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 4:26 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

Tiny type is maddening. The message that "you're really not cool enough to view this site" is infuriating and alienating. If it's a private site, limited to users with better than average eyesight, it's fine, although there probably aren't a whole lot of sites that fit that description. Otherwise, it's just silly.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 4:57 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

you're really not cool enough to view this site

Pat_S, I never thought of it that way before. I think the observation is right on the money. In the same way that many web designers ignore WebTV browsers and figure that segment is too small or too uncool, the stylish designers who use extra-small type just write off users with inappropriate monitor setups (or less-than-perfect vision) as not worth worrying about.

serpent star

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 5:49 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

I personally find myself using a very readably sized arial most of the time but I know of this phenomenon you are all speaking of.

I generally never see important content by pro designers done in tiny type, but I often see design elements done in tiny type.

Typography and the use of tinytype can be an incredible design element.

I think that there is a misconception that if it is text, it is there to be read, this is not necessarily the case. We need to take in a page as a whole by using a designers visual cues, and assume that he is familiar enough to the content to be able to tell us what is to be focused on and what is ambient. Style and ambience are, like it or not, a very important part of modern web design. Most artistic designers realize that pages are skimmed and not read, so if they make their text too small, it is done with a purpose. The effect being that particular section is skimmed over, or that particular section is agressively keyed in on by the user. 12 point times new roman just isn't exciting to most and as was said earlier, I usually veiw it as a first go at web design. The negative conotations of overly readable text are damaging to my demographic. Mid to late twenties, and want to spend money on what I find to be cool. If I see a page laid out for 5 year olds or for 60 year olds, I am generally thinking that my demo is being avoided and am less likely to drop money on their product. Image is everything. Targeted demographics are the words of the day. Small type can be effective.

Muskie

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 10:18 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

Recently I put up a small hobby site and I got quite a few suggestions on how to improve it. One was larger fonts and different type. I made many of the suggested changes, but I and others I consulted liked the old look better. My ideal solution, a style switcher. I build this site in XHTML by hand so I plan to implement a style switch alla a list apart

As for only hobby sites (hip small sites) having small fonts. I found ESPN's site to have some redicuously small fonts in some cases when viewed on browsers that weren't IE on Windows. I believe they have improved things slightly.

Muskie

idiotgirl

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 11:03 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

Eric_Jarvis -

>>usability is sitting on a comfy sofa in your living room...top class usability is sitting on a comfy sofa that is ergonomically designed to ensure that it doesn't cause back problems...are you really suggesting that no furniture designer is capable of making such an object look good?

Not at all. Strictly useable is bare bones i.e. orange crate functionality. I believe the goal is making it both useful and attractive. If small fonts get in the way, and are used only because of the "cool quotient", you've just shot yourself in the foot as a designer. But there are as many interpretations of "useful-meets-cool" as there are designers.

Because this is a graphics forum, I feel inclined to go more into the style aspect of this - as the usability aspect is a given. I don't believe the majority of people in this forum forego one for another. Most WebmasterWorld members seem to be professionals and understand the two elements go hand-in-hand.

Again, it's all quite personal. That leaves a million-and-one ways to skin the proverbial cat.

Baraucs

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:49 am on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think for me it's an anti-aliasing issue. Broswers don't have it (without silly plug-ins), thus the larger the font - the lower the visual quality of the text itself. (like playing Quake at 640x480 on a 21 inch monitor :)

No excuse for compromising useability, but probably the same reason most of you wouldn't touch H1 tags throughout the years despite the potential SE gains. I think if (or when) the time comes that larger fonts hava a smoother appearance, it won't be so hip to force people to pull out a magnifying glass.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 374 posted 2:23 am on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>Why do good designers tend to use ultra-tiny fonts?<<

They don't. Bad designers who *think* they're good designers use ulta-tiny fonts.

Eric_Jarvis

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 10:39 am on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

idiotgirl...then you are using the word "usability" in a very different way than is normal...comfort and convenience is a major part of usability...trying to pretend that usability must have a "hair shirt" element is mistaken at best and dishonest at worst

idiotgirl

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:12 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

What the ....? I might be missing something, but that certainly was not what I meant, nor what I wrote. Not at all. Did I run over your cat or something and just not realize it?

Back to airbrushing for me.

IanTurner

WebmasterWorld Administrator ianturner us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:19 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Tiny type is cool - okay I agree at the moment tiny type is cool.

Unfortunately 'cool' is not mainstream. Mainstream is dull boring and effective.

I agree with mayor.

mattur

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 2:07 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

idiotgirl, Eric is right. You are using the term usable as in something that /can/ be used eg "the sofa is made of orange crates but still quite usable"

Usable/Usability wrt software/web means that it offers effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in meeting a user's requirements.

eg "the orange-crate sofa offers very poor usability: it is uncomfortable, the wrong height and lacks back support"

It is a surprisingly common mistake to assume that usability means utilitarian. This is absolutely not the case.

Don Norman's Design of Everyday Things is a great book to read if you want to know more about this fascinating field.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 2:29 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Print is a different medium, although I think some of the same issues apply. High-style print ads are often not the best communicators (although perhaps they do their job). In particular, many fashion ads have a great photo, but text content is limited to the designer's name in tiny type in the corner. In that world, a mostly text ad with "5 reasons why Donna Karan fashions are better" in big type wouldn't cut it... At the same time, one wonders how many readers flip by the glossy pictures without so much as a glance at the inconspicuous designer's name. It seems like there should be a happy medium: stylish AND effective.

Eric_Jarvis

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 2:39 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

print is a very different medium...with print you can get maximum visual impact with a top quality photo...on the web that photo loads too slowly to have the same impact...so the audience has to be hooked with small graphics or with simple text and a general shape and colour to a page

you can still carry content with graphics on the web...but it is much harder to use them to get the same full frontal visual assault that can be done with print

the ideal web designer would be Mondrian...all that emotion in a few simple lines and blocks...then maybe Picasso...I'm sure he could do more with a 3k background gif than most of us can do with the complete designer's toolkit

Arbernaut

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 2:57 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

At the beiginning of this thread someone mentioned that the type on Pixelsurgeon was too small. I'm the designer of Pixelsurgeon and I totally agree with you - the type is too small.

So what prompted me to use 9px verdana? Well, for a couple of reasons: my screen res is 1280 x 1024 and 9px verdana is small, but comfortable for me to read; small type is a *fashion* thing among designers - you see all kinds of crazy fads spread like ripples through-out the design community: grey websites, websites with sharp 3D vector abstract shapes, grungy sites, pixellated websites based on very old console games, etc. (I did a presentation of the Online Flash Film Festival in Barcelona this year on the subject of trends in Web design, so I've done my homework on this!) and web designers love the crispness of nice pixel fonts. Verdana is excellent at a number of sizes: 9px, 10px, and 11px. After 12px it begins to lose some of its aesthetic appeal to designers and from about 12px onwards, you'll see many designers switch to Arial.

However, as Pixelsurgeon has become really popular (it started off as fun side project and is still run by a handful of people in our spare time) I've completely reconsidered the design for a wider audience. Whilst attempting to maintain Pixelsurgeon's core look and feel, I've redesigned the pages with 11px Verdana as the core font size, which is much more readable for people with higher monitor resolutions or those with sight problems. Although on the newly redesigned news page our main news feed remains in 9px (for aesthetic reasons) there is a tab to select 11px as the default size if you find that too small. We are also hoping to provide a simplified large type version of the site (and also have elements of teh site available to WAP users, but that's slightly off topic). Ideally, we should make a single site that caters for all users, but with our self imposed brief of retaining elements of our news page's look and feel that proved to be too difficult given the timescale we had to redesign the site.

For those who are curious as to what the new Pixelsurgeon will look like here is the NEWS PAGE [pixelsurgeon.com] (please note, this mock up is not finished and the main Nav is absent - as well as some other minor elements) and a [url=hhttp://www.pixelsurgeon.com/dropbox/example.gif]CONTENT PAGE[/url]

mivox

WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 7:06 pm on Jun 28, 2002 (gmt 0)

Personally, I'd have to say that "usability" and "ergonomics" are being somewhat confused here...

Usability, as preached by Jakob Nielsen and as I understand it, simply means that your website makes it very easy for visitors to complete necessary tasks (or from a more marketing perspective: to do what you want them to do...). It doesn't inherently include making the site pleasing to look at in any way, and doesn't even require that the site be fun to use.

In the Jakob Nielsen ideal usable web universe, all links would be bright blue underlined text, which turned purple after you'd clicked it, and flashed bright red for the moment your mouse button was depressed. Personally, I think default text link colors are the visual equivalent of an orange crate: They may be clearly usable as links, but they aren't aesthetically pleasant in any way.

An orange crate will give you somewhere to sit, just as a bright blue underlined link will give you something to click. Neither one will accomplish it's task with any sense of style, design or pleasantry. I don't think the point of the orange crate example was to argue that usability had to be physically uncomfortable, but rather to say that the widely touted "guidelines" for usability on the web were the aesthetic equivalent of an orange crate.

Ergonomics and web usability are not the same thing... According to the Jakob Nielsen ideal usable web universe, navigation bars should go on the left, because that's where people expect them to be. From an ergonomic standpoint, it makes much more sense to put them on the right, because that's where the window scroll bar goes. Less repetitive back -and-forth-from-the-navbar-to-the-scrollbar mouse movement is better/more ergonomic, right? But apparently not more usable...

Likewise, in the furniture universe, there are chairs designed with swiveling armrests and precisely tilted seats, with a chest-support rather than a back rest, adjustable in every way... they are precisely ergonomically designed for people who work at a table with their hands all day. Would they be "usable" for the average American (or average websurfer?) Heck no... at first glance, everyone would sit in them backwards, using the chest support as a back rest, and then complain that the armrests didn't swivel the right direction.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 374 posted 12:36 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

According to the Jakob Nielsen ideal usable web universe, navigation bars should go on the left, because that's where people expect them to be. From an ergonomic standpoint, it makes much more sense to put them on the right, because that's where the window scroll bar goes.

It would make sense to put navigation bars on the right only if you could be sure that they wouldn't be cut off on low-resolution displays.

mattur

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:33 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

Mivox - aha! now I understand why folks reject usability. It's a misunderstanding. Usability is like ergonomics for software. It's that simple.

"Usability is the measure of the quality of a user's experience when interacting with a product or system"
See [usability.gov...]

Nielsen I s'pose carries some responsibility for the misunderstanding. He has popularised usability by producing small, simplified nuggets of usability info and folks have assumed that nielsen's alertbox = usability.

It is somewhat ironic that you appear to think ergonomics = good and usability = bad, when the only real difference is that ergonomics applies to real things and usability applies to virtual things:).

Perhaps if people only used the proper term of "Human Factors" it would be clearer to all.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:51 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

Donald Norman, Nielsen's partner, wrote an interesting book a few years back that pointed out how difficult to use many everyday objects are. He ridiculed (rightly) highly styled objects and devices that gave no clue as to how to use them. (Think of a wall of perfectly smooth cabinets - no visible handles, no visible hinges, and even the seams between cabinets are hard to find. Slick appearance, but perplexing if you are a new user trying to find a coffee cup.)

Oddly, I find Nielsen's bland web site kind of like those cabinets - there just aren't enough visual cues to tell me where to look first.

Eric_Jarvis

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 3:02 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think it's rather a shame that Jakob Nielsen is such a visible spokesman for the cause of usability...IMO that's holding things back immensely

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 3:10 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

Absolutely right, Eric. If you try to sell someone on improving site usability, they will immediately think of "useit.com" and "ugly".

lizard49

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 3:54 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

12 point times new roman just isn't exciting to most and as was said earlier, I usually veiw it as a first go at web design.

Normally, I think Times Roman is about the most boring font there is. But I have an article, [url="http://www.medicalese.org/dictation1.html"]Cicero Teaches Dictation: Lessons From Ancient Rome[/url], on my site, where, because of the historical overtones and because we wanted a feeling of authority, Times was the only choice that made sense. The first lines of the more important paragraphs are in bold caps, but in a slightly smaller size than the rest of the text, for the same reason.

The rest of the site is in Georgia, which we didn't think was appropriate for the Cicero article.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 374 posted 4:49 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

[quote]12 point times new roman just isn't exciting to most and as was said earlier, I usually veiw it as a first go at web design.{/quote]

"Points" in a print measurement, but in any case, I disagree that using Times or Times New Roman is indicative of a "first go at Web design." I use it on my site for several reasons:

1) It's easy to read. (Much easier than a sans-serif font, IMHO).

2) It's the default browser serif font.

3) It's platform-independent.

3) It's familiar to readers (after all, they've been reading it most of their lives), so it doesn't get in the way of editorial content.

My opinion: If you want to get fancy with type and formatting, use Quark XPress or PageMaker and Acrobat to create PDF files.

pleeker

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 5:44 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

I disagree that using Times or Times New Roman is indicative of a "first go at Web design." I use it on my site for several reasons:

1) It's easy to read. (Much easier than a sans-serif font, IMHO).

That may be true in a print environment, but I could swear that I've seen studies which indicate that sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana, and Helvetica are easier to read on computer monitors. Anyone else familiar with this?

mivox

WebmasterWorld Senior Member mivox us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 6:12 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)

It is somewhat ironic that you appear to think ergonomics = good and usability = bad

I don't think usability is necessarily bad any more than I think Flash is necessarily bad. Heck, I don't even think the two are totally incompatible. My main point was that I don't think usability and ergonomics are the same thing.

I think people who get entirely too enthusiastically on one bandwagon or another... hip design or usability, end up losing sight of the value of the other side of the debate, and so you end up with hideous looking usable sites, and beautiful unusable ones, and neither side actually ends up furthering it's own agenda at all.

tedster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 6:27 pm on Jul 2, 2002 (gmt 0)


SERIF VS. SANS
The studies I've seen show that sans-serif fonts may often be perceived as easier to read, but the actual differences in testing are not nearly so big as the subjective perceptions.

This study on fonts [psychology.wichita.edu] shows some interesting differences along these lines, if you dig into the results.

Online magazines like Salon, and many newspaper websites, set their body copy with Times New Roman or Georgia - and Salon at least makes it look pretty hip. Because the overwhelming number of sites use Arial, right now serif fonts on a well designed page stand out from the crowd.

TINY TYPE
Back to the "tiny type" issue. This is also a trend in print, and it's a trend that wins awards. But there is a growing body of companies who see that IT DOESN'T DO THEM MUCH GOOD AS ADVERTISING.

The rule is "form follows function." It's that rule that tiny type violates so very often.

If advertising and marketing design are art in any sense at all, they are commercial art. Whether they accompish their commercial purpose should be the number one question.

Otherwise they are like a beautiful, sleek sports car that goes 0 to 60 in 45 seconds.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:12 am on Jul 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

I could swear that I've seen studies which indicate that sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana, and Helvetica are easier to read on computer monitors.

Tedster offered a good answer to this, but I'll add my own personal observation: namely, that sans-serif is easy to read in small chunks, but it tends to be either too light, too dark, or just too hard on the eyes in large copy blocks.

Mind you, that observation isn't very original. Most books, magazine articles, and newspaper stores are set in serif type. If sans-serif type is used in a textbook, for example, it's probably used in text boxes or for captions. Similarly, you won't find too many magazines that use sans-serif type throughout.

On my own plain-vanilla, quick-to-download, functional but hardly elegant site, I use the browser default font (which is likely to be Times/Times New Roman) for most editorial content and Verdana for navigation links. Verdana isn't pretty, and it's downright ugly in standard-size body text, but it's extremely legible at small sizes--which makes it ideal for tables of navigation links within an article.

mattur

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 11:27 am on Jul 3, 2002 (gmt 0)


I think people who get entirely too enthusiastically on one bandwagon or another... hip design or usability, end up losing sight of the value of the other side of the debate, and so you end up with hideous looking usable sites, and beautiful unusable ones

If you get into the usability/Human factors community you will find there is no debate: most folks who understand usability understand that hip design and usability are not incompatible. ditto flash and usability. It's just not an issue.

imho its only the hip deezyners who are still thinking there are two sides to the debate (or a debate at all).

Nielsen <> Usability!
useit.com <> a good example of a usable web site
etc :)

knighty

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 12:11 pm on Jul 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>If you get into the usability/Human factors community you will find there is no debate

There will ALWAYS be a debate, you can please some of the people most of the time but you can't please all the people all the time.

Its a fact of life that people have completely different viewpoints on the same thing...cars, women, houses, art, furniture, web sites.

In mine (and a few other peoples )opinion Nielsen's useit.com is not only UGLY but could also vastly improve the usability of the site.

Tiny Type is only too tiny if you cannot read it. "Tiny" type to you might be "normal" type to me.

Eric_Jarvis

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 374 posted 1:39 pm on Jul 3, 2002 (gmt 0)

which is why I ALWAYS leave the main body of text at the user's default size...because what is normal to me actually changes depending on the state of my eyes...so I know how irritating text that is too small can be

OTOH I have done some seriously small smallprint at times :)

Robert Charlton

WebmasterWorld Administrator robert_charlton us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 374 posted 7:33 am on Jul 4, 2002 (gmt 0)

Looking at Google on an 800x600 screen, at the default (medium) font size on IE5.5 I think the serps look really clunky.

Setting the size to the "smaller" preference sometimes, but not always, improves Google's readability for me, and my eyes aren't that great. I think it's got to do in part with whether the text blocks cohere enough for you to take them in easily. On Google, the default size, for the font they use (Arial, I assume), is just large enough that sometimes I feel I'm looking more at white space within the words than I am at the words themselves.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 374 posted 4:41 pm on Jul 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Screens create more shock - the iris tends to contract so your ability to focus on bigger things are diminished. It is actually easier to read small font sizes on screens if you have average eyesight.

Lextech:

Interesting point. One of the reasons I dislike Verdana and Georgia is that they're too bold for easy reading in body text. The contrast between the very black text and the white background makes the text painful to read, even at a "small" font setting at a fairly high resolution (1280 x 1024 on a 20" monitor).

Still, there's a difference between "small type" and "tiny type." To make matters even worse, font sizes are often coded in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to adjust font size with the browser controls unless the reader is using Opera (which has a "zoom" control). That's a violation of the Web's fundamental principles, and it suggests that the designer is ignorant or arrogant.

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