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As we refine our methods of responsive web design, we’ve increasingly focused on measure (another word for “line length”) and its relationship to how people read.
The popularization of the “ideal measure” has led to advice such as “Increase font size for large screens and reduce font size for small screens.” While a good measure does improve the reading experience, it’s only one rule for good typography. Another rule is to maintain a comfortable font size.
When you buy something, I bet you want it to work. Heck, even if you use something for free — maybe borrowed from a friend — I bet you want it to work. No one prefers hiking boots that are too tight (or too loose), a car that shimmies when you drive faster than 40 miles an hour, or a kitchen knife that can’t cut a tomato.
And Web designers don’t prefer fonts that don’t fit a project, fall apart in different browsers or can’t be used in a mock-up. We also don’t like wading through all of the fonts that won’t work for us in order to find the ones that will. It takes precious time away from other tasks and responsibilities.
If people are on your website, they’re probably either skimming quickly, looking for something, or they’ve found what they’re looking for and want to read it as easily as possible. Either way, keeping text readable will help them achieve their goal.
If you’re using Google Web Fonts on your websites, then there’s a very good chance that 1 in 5 visitors are seeing faux bold and italic versions of your fonts — even if you correctly selected and used all of the weights and styles. That’s because the implementation method recommended by Google Web Fonts doesn’t work with Internet Explorer 7 or 8.
As of 21 May 2012, StatCounter reports that IE 7 or 8 was used for 19.4% of the 45 billion page views collected in February, March and April 2012. As an experienced print and Web typographer, I embrace and use the term “font” when talking about Web fonts; it’s the term used in CSS syntax and by a myriad of Web font providers.
The practice of using a large letter to mark the start of a text has been around for almost two thousand years. Illustrated caps increased usability by marking important passages and guiding readers through the text. Unlike their historic counterparts, drop caps on the Web don’t add value in terms of usability or readability—and they are hard for Web developers to control, often rendering differently across browsers.
Yet, front-end designers and clients often want to use drop caps as decorative elements. How should we implement them? Just as scribes, artisans, and early printers had a variety of methods for creating initial capitals, we Web designers have multiple methods to choose from. We can use an image of a letter, create a class to enlarge and place a letter, or use a first-child:first-letter to enlarge and place the first letter of the first paragraph. But which method should we use? Which method remains consistent across browsers? Which is most accessible?