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This 61 message thread spans 3 pages: 61 ( [1] 2 3 > >     
Why is Tiny Type Cool?

 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!"...



 3:41 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Actually, in my personal experience (both as designer and surfer), my eyes can focus on the smaller text because of the screen illumination. Flat background surfaces (paper) absorbs more of the optical shock. 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.


 3:52 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

One issue is that designers what to use text as a design element. Tiny text across the page can be used as a rule to break up the space. The smaller it is the easier it is to use as both a graphic element and information.

brotherhood of LAN

 3:57 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I can understand where you are coming from with this rogerd, but I guess its more of a perception than a rule :)

I think some designers have the same idea, where if they can pack a books worth of information into one page then they have "properly utilised the net" or something or other

Anyway, IMO, yes, small text is preferrable to me (Im OK with reading it) but Im keeping things at 13px or above (already cursing the fact im using px for 'change-ability')

If you feel you have to strain to read a font, IMO yes, they are a beginner designer or they simply need to get the heads up and realise that it aint fun to screw your eyes up and damage your eyes reading a 5px font.


 4:54 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hehehe... why are baggy nylon pants with racing stripes and snap closures down the side cool? Why were avocado green and harvest gold ever cool colors for interior decorating? Why were giant shoulder pads and ripped-up neon clothing cool in the 80s?

Tiny fonts aren't so offensive when you look at them in the overall historical context of "cool" are they? ;)

But really, most of the "tiny type" sites are probably designed by young people with good eyesight, and aimed at a general audience of young people... I see that style used most often on young, hip "design for design's sake" sites, and artists' sites. Various people have been complaining about art being inaccessible to the "average viewer" for a long time, so I don't see why the web should change that. hehe

Personally, while I can totally understand the problems many people had with pixelsurgeon's 9px type and low-contrast colors, I had no trouble reading it whatsoever. I use a 17" monitor at 1024x768, and I have LOUSY eyesight...

Keep in mind that some of the people complaining about the 9px fonts were using monitors set to statistically unusual resolutions (1600 on a 19" monitor for example, which would make my eyes bug out of my skull!). I don't think we should all design our sites for people using ultra-high resolution monitors when the majority of surfers use 800x600 or 1024x768... and more people probably use those two resolutions on 17" monitors than even own a 19"

I think the issue with font size really needs to be centered around the specific target audience of each individual site. If you want to reach a mass audience sucessfully, I'd recommend against 9px type... If you're targeting an audience with huge, ultra-high resolution monitors, I'd probably advise against it as well. In most cases, I'd probably advise against it.

If you're designing for the artsy crowd though (which many tiny type "design" sites are), or trying to build a "cool/young/hip" entertainment type site... I'd rather present a site that looks like pixelsurgeon than one that looks like useit.com. ;)


 5:33 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

How many designers/developers here would actually put a useit.com into their portfolio and try to sell it as good work, how many clients would "buy" it?

Yes, we can all comprehend things at the third grade level, but that doesn't mean everybody appreciates being treated like a third grader.

Apart from the tiny type issue I think Jacob could learn a lot more about design. I also think designers could learn a teeny bit from him.


 7:59 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Useit is certainly the opposite extreme from tiny type... I find the page quite unusable, due to its excessive vertical size, low information density (due to too-large font), and the absence of visual cues to direct one's attention to what the designer (?) considers important.


 8:44 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have spent many years battling with graphic designers to get them to use readably large point sizes in printed material.

I now see much the same battle on websites.

To most graphic designers, text is a grey blur that makes up a visual element of the page -- and not the most important element at that. They want something that is beautifully balanced and lovely to look at. Readability hardly enters their universe.

As a client of a designer, I've just had to keep insisting: "bigger! bolder! brasher!" to hope to get anything above 8-point.


 9:04 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I would suggest that you're not working with very good designers then. ;)


 9:31 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

One conscious or unconscious reason some design people may use a lot of tiny type is that Verdana (which is what they are often using) is a truly extraordinary font in terms of legibility at small sizes on a computer screen - there's nothing like it (hats off to Matthew Carter). Now anyone who uses Arial or Times at that same size....

When we start getting better screen resolutions in the next 5 years or so, good quality typography in the traditional sense will become a lot more important than it is now, and some of the whiz-bang design gimmicks may recede into the background. (I hope.)


 9:34 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

Being a machinist by trade I have butt up against this problem with engineers also. They design something, print out a blueprint, and figure their work is done until they can inspect the finished work. But sometimes the machinist can see improvements in the design and/or manufacturing. Too often the engineer just won't give on any changes though - often it's an ego thing.


 9:39 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

why are baggy nylon pants with racing stripes and snap closures down the side cool?

Mivox, have you been snooping around in my closet?? ;)


 9:42 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

I would suggest that you're not working with very good designers then. :)

I've stuck with them because they are often astonishing good designers. But type size is their blind spot.

But it gets derned frustrating at times. I sometimes dream of sending them job briefs printed inkjet at 6pt, see how they like it. :)


 9:53 pm on Jun 21, 2002 (gmt 0)

OK... nitpicky semantics time... hehehehe.

They may be astonishingly good artists, but IMO a commercial designer needs to be equally as concerned with the functionality of the design as the aesthetics.

A good designer needs to be able to take a client's specfications & a project's intended purpose and make their design work within those parameters. If the designer can produce beautiful work, but has significant problems adapting that work to the necessary parameters of the job at hand, they are not what I would call a good designer, no matter how incredible their artistic ability may be.

Enough nits picked for you? ;)


 7:33 pm on Jun 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

I've also noticed that the "readability" of a site somewhat depends on what a web designer's background is ...

I struggle with a designer who came from a print background. He's doing a great job learning web design, but I still have to ask at least once a week: "Where do you want my eye to focus? What action do you want me to take? And do you want me to actually be able to read that??" And he has to start over, because he's given me an absolutely gorgeous page that won't work at all for our purposes!

Makes it fun, though. :)


 11:38 pm on Jun 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think that small type is used for different reasons that those listed. Small font isn't just convenient for space but I think its also an asthetic decision. *MANY* of the small fonts are used in ALL caps this is because it makes the shape of the text line rectangular. This looks cleaner and keeps you from getting that choatic feel. Typography demands on the internet I believe are different than those in the print world.


 11:45 pm on Jun 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

>This looks cleaner and keeps you from getting that choatic feel.<

Or that useful feel. ;)

All caps is a usabilty no-no. We read by recognizing words based on the protrusions above and below the "x" heaight. Using all capitols forces the reader to, well, read! It is much slower and takes more brain power.

brotherhood of LAN

 11:59 pm on Jun 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think that smaller type obviously have some advantages.

"smaller than average" type can slow down the speed the reader reads at.

Usually I scan info, but if the fonts smaller, it forces me to read more closer. Debatable if that makes me read it more clearly though, because "too small" fonts are quite simply - frustrating.

We also have all the talk about usability, and unless we know that users know how to adjust font size (or we give them an option to)....I guess small fonts are a no-no.

I'm sure small-type has its place....and from what Ive seen, web design sites, marketing sites and all those "glossy" sites are bad for annoyingly small fonts!

I guess thats part of the "designer/coder" debate ;)


 6:07 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

If *I* can read it - it's fine with me. If someone else can't read it - it's too small.

It's all quite personal.

Maybe we could all dump the small fonts and go to straight Flash - and instead of "skip intro" we could integrate a "how to resize your Flash presentation" screen to enlarge the fonts? Maybe a popup screen with detailed instructions? Maybe an H1 popup screen of instructions without any background color that uses default system fonts? Whaddaya think?

exiting quickly - he he he


 7:08 am on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

Whaddaya think?

OMG! You're Jakob Nielsen in cyber-drag! You wander the internet as a woman, anonymously tormenting deisgners with cryptic posts like that one, whenever you find yourself suffering from insomnia...

That's what I think. :)


 6:52 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

I think since this is a graphics forum - and we recognize that sites must ultimately be useable - we, as "designers", are left to rationalize our design choices. We take content and images and make them purty. At least, we try.

Useable is sitting on orange crates in your living room. Style is Corbusier. Style can be Stickley. Style can be Frank Lloyd Wright, DaDa, or Bauhaus. It's all furniture to someone.

Presently small fonts are stylish. Small fonts often lend to more interesting negative spaces and flow of page elements. Unfortunately, small fonts may be hard to read and, in many cases, make a poor choice for design. I think the popularity has grown simply because small fonts have been used well at so many sites they've earned the attention of other designers who feel they are a good design choice.

If we want to keep "all of the people happy all of the time" I suppose we could implement CSS on every site that allows viewers to choose their font style? (That's also been done very nicely - even here at WebmasterWorld.) But I don't believe that fans of small type will cave under popular opinion any more than they'll burn their sofa and camp out on orange crates.

Nope, they won't do it.

much refreshed after a long nap sitting in my 1950's bent plywood office chair

brotherhood of LAN

 7:04 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>Useable is sitting on orange crates in your living room. Style is Corbusier. Style can be Stickley. Style can be Frank Lloyd Wright, DaDa, or Bauhaus. It's all furniture to someone.

I get what you're saying about desiring the better choice....but really, is TINY type cool? Is type cool for that matter.....

I know that when people mumble as opposed to talking...its annoying. People say that CAPS online are shouting so perhaps tiny type is mumbling........

IMO its not cool. Who would actually perceive tiny as cool.......Im not 100% sure about young people thinking that, or people ever perceiving that young people think tiny type is cool...more like webmasters (probably "graphics designers") think tiny type is cool ;)

No offence intended....all Im saying is that I dont think its "cool" :), specially when I need glasses.


 7:09 pm on Jun 26, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hehehe. Even orange crates can be "style"... I wandered around a house in Marin County, CA (posh neighborhood) wherein I saw:

1. a very expensive picture frame made of brown kraft paper overwrapped with chicken wire...

2. a pair of candles (never lit, never would be) manufactured to look exactly like birch twigs...

3. sloppily made bentwood patio furniture (if it's badly made and the bark is left on the wood it's more rustic looking), also very expensive...

4. ...and the entire neighborhood had hideously paved streets with no sidewalks, and a crumbly-looking bridge over the tiny neighborhood creek. I think the builders actually installed the moss on it, so it wouldn't look new.

Personally, having grown up around bad pavement and chicken wire that wasn't expensive, I'll take small fonts and proper upholstery any day. ;)

<added>Teenagers seem to think mumbling is cool... especially when talking to teachers or parents, who think it's annoying. Again, the key is to know your audience... hehe</added>


 4:59 am on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

If I use 'tiny type' somewhere, the main reason for doing so is usually to make the text fit / balance / work better with the other elements on the page. It seems more appropriate sometimes to adjust the text size to, say, a nearby image ... rather than to make the image larger so it works better with the larger text.

Not sure I'm explaining myself as well as I could at the moment, though! :)


 10:14 am on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

The over-40 crowd with their failing eyesight and fat credit lines like to surf e-commerce sites with 10 & 12 size fonts, and 14-18 for headings. Forget all the fancy graphics if you like making money.


 10:35 am on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

>>Why is Tiny Type Cool?

Cos it rocks!! :)

It looks neater, more asthetic and stylish than cumbersome, ugly, large text.

but you know what?

thats just my opinion... if I'm doing a site for grannys I will use LARGE text, If I'm doing one for fashion/arty/looks type of site I might use small fonts.

If i'm doing a normal site I will strike a balance between the two.


 10:56 am on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

"Useable is sitting on orange crates in your living room."

no...it most definitely is not...that is a total misunderstanding of usability and typical of how this debate tends to go

nobody is suggesting that a usable site must be deliberately ugly...nobody is suggesting that usability means making something unappealling or uncomfortable...I simply cannot understand why any designer should think that way

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?


 3:24 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

Idiotgirl (who I highly doubt reflects the name) put what I was TRYING to say in a more understandable language :).

From what I've seen, I would say that most sites using small text are the cutting-edge design sites. These tend to be flash-oriented and not targeted towards your general audience (DUH!). I don't think you will be seeing 11px (or smaller) font on Amazon.com or Buy.com as the default.

I also agree that there seems to be a wanna-be following for this style. Some people are using it just because they think its the cool thing to do. It all goes back to usability/necessity. I think it def. gives a cleaner look when small fonts are utilized PROPERLY and it can even take the emphasis AWAY from the text and focus more on the artistic image. At the same time (if you care) who is going to be looking at this page?

So I would say TINY type is NOT COOL to me but thats with the understanding that COOL is relative. Does Marilyn Manson think it is COOL or does George Bush think it's cool?

Its a phase just like the 45 degree angle thing and it will pass.


 3:37 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

Its a phase just like the 45 degree angle thing and it will pass.

At the risk of going off on an off-topic tangent, what's "the 45 degree angle thing"?


 4:10 pm on Jun 27, 2002 (gmt 0)

If you've noticed on a SLEW of design sites there is a strong use of 45 degree angles. When drawing with the selection tool in photoshop I think you hold down shift (or ctrl). They are usually just solid color blocks draw with this angle implemented in them somewhere. Does that make sense? If not let me know and I'll point you to a few sites.

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