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Big fonts make for better reading experiences

A month or so ago we bought a new television. We’d used a trusty 20 inch Toshiba for 10 years or so, but it had begun to act a bit strangely.

We did our internet research and decided on a Samsung. It was cheap and had lots of good reviews but it had one problem. It was too big. A 32 inch screened seemed, well, obtrusive for a television.

After some very earnest discussion we thought we’d give it a go. The TV arrived and it was huge. It sat there, dominating the living room like a screaming child. We moved the sofa back. We nearly returned the TV; in fact, we would have taken it back the same day if we could have been bothered.

Instead, we thought we’d give it a day or two. Just to get used to it.

And we did. Now, whenever I see a smaller TV it feels miniature, like something you’d find in a doll’s house. I even ask people if their usual TV has broken.

It’s exactly the same with font sizes. Just a few years ago most websites used 12 pixel body copy. If you see 12 pixels today it looks cramped and dated. And yet we were able to read articles back then.

Conversely, when Zeldman started using 24 pixels it was like getting a new TV. It felt aggressive. We wanted the old size for a bit. But as more sites use a 20+ pixel font we get used to it.

I think web readers are resilient. Although font size is no doubt related to readability, using 12 pixels won’t stop anyone from understanding your text. However, use 20+ pixels and you’ll make reading more comfortable. Less work for readers results in a better experience.