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RE: CSS - font-size

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2001 20:26:37 -0700
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

Joe Clark writes:
"And anyway, the Zeldman and others have documented that the only size
settings that work in the real world are none at all or pixels."

Documented? Maybe. Proved? No way.

All that the article you mention -
http://www.alistapart.com/stories/fear4/5.html -
proves is that Zeldman & co. are control freaks.

If we start (as Zeldman does) with the presumption that every item on a page
must remain fixed in relation to every other item on the page, then it's
pretty easy to get to the "pixels or nothing" argument. Except, of course,
that Zeldman, et al, are certainly not advocating "or nothing." So to
translate: if we want total control of our page layout then we must use
pixels (overriding the user's ability to easily increase font size, but,
hey - that's a small price to pay).

Zeldman has two complaints about em units:

1. Netscape 4 ignores em and ex units.

2. IE 3 treats em units as pixels.

That's the whole case against em units.

Now, to begin, Netscape 4 renders em units properly. Just to be sure, I
opened up Netscape 4.02 on my PC and checked out an em test page. Got a copy
of NS 4? See for yourself:

Not only does Netscape 4 render the text properly, but when I use Ctrl+] to
increase the size of the text, it gets bigger. Note that the px text below
it does not.

So we're left with the argument that IE 3 treats em units as pixels. The
author acts as if this were the end of the world. That his use of px will
override the ability of 50 times as many users to adjust the size of the
text on their pages is evidently a small price to pay.

I see it differently: IE 3 is broken and it always has been. I refuse to be
held hostage by this worthless software, and I refuse to subject the
majority of my site's users to frozen fonts just because some people
continue to use broken software. (Frankly, I feel similarly about Netscape
4, but it's difficult to ignore it because lots of people who are ignorant
of what a total piece of crap it is continue to use it.) Users of IE 3
should upgrade or turn style sheets off. Better yet, I program my servers to
look for IE 3 and to drop the style sheet for those pages. They get the

Think I've got Zeldman all wrong? Well, here's a quote from his sidebar:

"When exactitude doesn't count, you can try another approach. The ALA global
style sheet uses percentages on the paragraph tag, because we really don't
care if you see this type exactly the way we like it. In Navigator 4, the
typography on this page may bear only a second-cousin relationship to what
we've actually designed. So be it. On ALA, we err on the side of flexibility
and accessibility. On most commercial projects, we would not have that
option. What would we do? We'd use pixels, as we have in this text box."

There you have it: it's all about "exactitude," not about what works or
doesn't work. Of course, Zeldman realizes that this is bad for
accessibility, so he sets himself up as a nice guy ("we err on the side of
... accessibility") and blames the need for pixels on his clients. As if he
didn't have any influence on them. As if the design community is just aching
for a chance to give up pixel-perfect control of what the user sees, but
can't because the big, bad clients won't let them. As if using percentage
units on the paragraphs is a big sacrifice. Give me a break.

Really, this is the same, tired old argument we've seen on these pages for
years. As far as I'm concerned (and I suspect I'm not alone), the trade-off
between pixel-perfect control and accessibility is an easy decision. I'll
choose accessibility any day, and my clients can take it or leave it. So
far, I've had no complaints.

Frankly, I don't care much for Zeldman's style or his attitude. His
smart-ass tone seems to scream out "Look at me! Aren't I cool?" and invites
you to indulge in the same fantasy. He reminds me of Dave Siegel. Pity.

The irony here? I hardly ever bother with Zeldman's site because in part his
choice of font size is ridiculously small and I can't change it. So his
insistence on pixel units has cost him at least one viewer. I wonder how
many people with worse eyesight than I have rejected his site out of hand
for the same reason. Think he's done any usability testing to find out?

Charles F. Munat
Received on Monday, 2 April 2001 23:29:22 UTC

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