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Chapter Thirteen. Working with Browsers ... > User Choices and Em Units

User Choices and Em Units

A more common problem with em units is that users often downsize their default font size settings as noted several times in this chapter. Mac users switch back to 12px/72ppi; Windows folks set their browsers' View: Text Size menu to “small” rather than “medium.” Such changes make any text sized below 1em smaller than it is supposed to be and might make it too small to be read. In 2002, CSS/DHTML expert Owen Briggs tested every available text sizing method across a vast range of browsers and platforms to find out what worked and what failed. 264 screen shots later, despite hoping to prove that ems were always viable, he had actually discovered the opposite [13.11].

Ems work well as long as you never spec your text below the user's default size. Ems work well as long as users never adjust their preferences. But most designers and many clients favor smaller type and many designs require them. Many users consider the 16px default size uncomfortable for normal reading and change their preference settings accordingly. When em units are used to design sites, the designer's and user's shrinkage efforts compound on one another, resulting in text that might be hard to read or even entirely illegible.


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