We don’t often get into the nitty gritty of design in this blog. Website font size, however, is significant enough to warrant a special mention.
We’ve been designing websites for about 20 years. In that time, we’ve seen a welcome trend of website font size increasing over that period.
Back before 2000, when many of us were on 13-inch or 15-inch monitors, screen resolutions tended to be smaller. According to w3schools.com (an important site with a user base of web developers), 71% of their users, prior to 2000, were on screens that had a resolution lower than 1024 x 768.
Today, only 4.4% of W3 users have screen sizes with such low resolution. 95% of users use screens that have screen resolutions of 1920 x 1080 or higher. For better or worse, web designers tend to design sites based on their screen resolutions. With that said, the general public has been catching up in terms of larger screen sizes.
Throughout the typewriter era, most designers agreed that 12pt size was an optimal body text font size for printed words. Despite this, paper quantity costs compelled most books, newspaper and magazine typesetters to set their body text font size smaller than 12pt (equivalent to 12px on a Mac).
Throughout the late 1900s and early 2000s, most website designers set their body text font sizes between 9-14px. In the new era of responsive design (e.g. where websites respond to different screen resolutions, especially on phones and tablets), most designers now set their body text font size to 16px as a minimum.
There’s a constant compulsion for many website designers to keep their body text font size below this amount. Why is that? One reason is that many people still think users won’t scroll.
Users scroll. There is no way you’d be reading these words if you didn’t scroll.
Scrolling is so commonplace today (especially with the advent of mobile devices) that it’s become an ingrained behaviour. Even when the content of the page does not exceed the viewport (the immediately viewable area without scrolling), users tend to scroll to see if there’s more content below the area they see.
It’s likely time to increase your website font size
And with an increase in body text font size, comes a need to also increase the size of your header typography (H1, H2, H3 and H4) to suit your larger body text font size.
There are many good reasons to design with bigger body text. Christian Miller, in his excellent and well-detailed essay arguing for larger text sizing, highlighted several significant benefits of designing in larger type, which I’ll summarise:
- Larger website font size works better from a distance – With the advent of smart TVs and HD displays, the user could be anywhere between 3 and 16 ft away from the screen.
- Larger website font size improves readability – “A larger typeface has been proven to enhance readability for all types of users, regardless of one’s age or quality of eyesight”.
- Larger website font size improves usability – it can “minimise clutter, reduce extraneous cognitive load, and result in improved usability.”
- Larger website font size increases visual impact – “Larger font sizes on headlines can elicit a much stronger emotional connection, and the same applies to body text. Words can appear more prominent. Messages become louder, confident, and have more conviction.”
We’ve set our body text font size to 19px with a line height of 1.76 and a default letter spacing. Our headers are consequently larger, as follows: