Are Larger Fonts the New Web 2.0 Trend?

Today Friendfeed launched a beta of the new design. The first thing I noticed after the much simpler interface are the fact that the fonts are much larger. I believe we have an interesting trend here.

Image credit: parl 

About a year ago this trend started with Plaxo when they launched their redesign. This was shortly followed by LinkedIn and a couple of weeks ago by Facebook with their latest redesign. Now also Friendfeed is part of the 'larger' font community. Of course I don't know the rational behind all these redesigns, but I do have a couple of theories
1. All social communities want to attract a larger group of people. This does however require the capabilities to attract different demographics. Facebook is the best example, founded in the college going age group, but now growing the fastest in 35-54 age group. Designing for this older age groups requires larger fonts to please their eyes.
2. Larger screens are easily and cheaply available. We have 3 on our desks and need to be able to read the information from a larger distance. We are too afraid to miss something. The different communities recognize this and anticipate with larger fonts.
3. The Tech Bloggers whose opinions are critical for success are becoming older and do start to require reading glasses. The larger fonts are an attempt to ease their reading and create a positive opinion.

You got any other ideas?

3 comments

Resolutions on screens are growing. On flatscreens you can only use one resolution to have a sharp view. So with growing resolution (more pixels on the same screen) the size of every letter will be smaller. On my laptop i can see everything very good, bit sometimes i got comments from people who can't read the fonts on my lpatop. When i see their screens, the screen is not sharp because they uses a lower resolution (to get bigger fonts)
So I think the majority of the people wants bigger fonts because this will enable them to use the highest resolution.

I think the main reason for larger fonts, buttons etc. is the fact that web sites are applications now, rather than references as they used to be. This has caused a shift in the way websites are designed. Website owners want to offer the 20% functionality, which is used by most users 80% of the time in the most clear way, resulting in the requirement of much less space on the screen.

Take for example Twitter, which has quite large amount of space/fonts for main functionality and relatively small space/fonts for '20% functionality' such as configuration.

When you look at the CSS used by FriendFeed you'll see that all the font sizes are defined in points, where 1 point is 1/72 inch.

For example the font size of the body text is defined as 11pt, which should translate to 1/6 inch or about 4 mm.

Defining the font size as points instead of pixels would enable resolution independent rendering, but unfortunately most browsers don't really use this. Instead they assume a constant dpi for each screen of 96 dpi.

For the example of the body text of FriendFeed this would, if I'm not mistaken, come down to 96 dpi / (72 dpi / 11 points) = 14.67 pixels. If it were rendered as points the size on my MacBook should be about 113.49 dpi / (72 dpi / 11 points) = 17.34 pixels. You can see that the points are rendered using 96 dpi by disabling the CSS using e.g. FireBug, the font size will increase to the default of 16px.

So actually the font size used by FriendFeed is smaller than the default font size of Firefox and Safari.

Using larger font sizes is definitely one of the design principles of many web 2.0 companies, one I personally really like. Perhaps you can also see it as a design choice that forces developers to more consciously think about what information to show/hide.

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