The Web is finally catching up with the printing press

As a designer with better than 20/20 vision, I have to say I fairly loathe my design colleagues’ general preference for tiny type. Readable text, generous line spacing, and lots of white space—this isn’t a design trend at all. It’s just good typographic practice, following on from simple guidelines set down in the first half of the last century. It seems like the Web is finally catching up with the printing press.

Main points…

  • Don’t ask us to adjust the font size on your site: we don’t want to have to fiddle with preferences before we read your site.
  • Crowded Web pages don’t look good: they look nasty. Filling pages with stuff never helps usability.
  • Don’t tell us scrolling is bad. Because then all Web sites are bad. Is flipping the pages in a book bad?
  • Standardize the font size for long texts: make it readable from the get-go.
  • Let your text breathe. Using white space is not a designer’s nerdy issue. It aids readability.
  • Use reader friendly line spacing.
  • Use clear color contrast.
  • Text as images looks pretty, but pretty is not what the Web is about. It’s about communication and information, and information needs to be readable and usable and scalable and citable and sendable.

7 Responses to “Is Your Web Site Easy to Read? Probably Not.”

  1. Clayton

    “Is flipping the pages in a book bad?”

    At least the web is safer. I’ve never heard of a digital paper cut before.

    But yea, the war between ‘clicking on new pages’ and ‘vertical scrolling’ is over. Scrolling won, it’s intuitive and makes sense.

    But AJAX is adding a new perspective on the game.

  2. Clayton

    Just to clarify, because without this my last post makes little sense:

    Scrolling on a website = turning a page of a book

    Clicking on a new page = closing a book then reopening it and looking for the next page (simulating the loading process)

    I think I dug my hole a little deeper.

  3. Sean

    There’ll always be a place for both scrolling and separate pages. AJAX won’t do away with either because you can’t bookmark or forward a link to content that’s been drummed up by clicks in an AJAX interface.

    People don’t mind scrolling through the blogosphere because, in that environment, it’s expected. On a high-volume low-margin shopping site, however, making customers to scroll to find important content would be disastrous. Horses for courses.

    Scrolling and clicking don’t feel like work if the user senses he’ll get to the info he wants; mousing around only feels like work if the outcome is unclear (because of sloppy labeling) or if expectations aren’t met.

    I know some clients have a fear of scrolling because they’ve heard that audiences don’t like to scroll; which is true, sometimes. They fear people will automatically click out of their site if there’s any scrolling involved. In reality, it’s a balancing act. Of course, it makes sense to present as much useful information and clear direction as possible in the first screenful. But users will gladly scroll to read engaging writing, conduct research, ogle pictures of deficiently clad babes, etc.

  4. Beth Budwig

    I’ve enjoyed your recent blog posts, and agree with them generally – however, I can’t keep from pointing out that your li’s could really use some white space around them, and the time stamp on comments is painfully unreadable with hitting “ctrl-+” a few times, in the latest version of Firefox on my PC.

    I know that’s some fussiness, but so are your posts. 😉


  5. Sean

    I’m all about the fussiness. Even finickiness. Not only that, I’m extraordinarily open to ever increasing fussiness, or finickiness. I can’t decide which is better. Anyway, thanks for the feedback. Hope you enjoy the improved styles.

  6. Beth Budwig

    Sweet! Looks awesome.

  7. Yaz Okulu

    does anyone knows if there is any other information about this subject in other languages?

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