People don’t change the default 16px font size in their browser
I am really happy to still read articles that advocate for the use of proportional CSS units as
rem in 2016. But there are often trolls1 that come comment these articles to say that we, who are using proportional units, are dumb, because there is no need for this. Here is an example.
There are unfortunately two misleading urban legends in most web developers minds:
Default font size in browsers is always 16px
No, it’s not.
It is often, true, but not always.
Here are a few counterexamples I’ve collected from actual devices / browsers:
|Device / browser||Default font size|
|Opera Mini 4.5||13px|
|Palm webOS 2.0 & webOS TouchPad||14px|
|Opera Mini 7||17px|
|Cybook Odyssey (e-book reader)||21px|
These devices are fairly old because I made the study in 2013, but I’m sure there are still such devices nowadays. I admit I can’t prove it with actual data.
These default font sizes were set by the device or browser vendors because it was the best size for reading. When you set your font-size in
px units, you throw their work to satisfy their users/clients into the bin.
People don’t change the default font size in their browser
I agree we are not a lot4 to do that, maybe even less now than a few years ago.
But is it:
- because there is really no need anymore,
- because browsers hide this really valuable feature in their “advanced” settings,
- or because Web developers don’t care about people who need this?
My humble opinion is that:
- there is still a need for this, maybe even increasingly so with people using the Web getting older,
- but too many websites are really deceptive, not caring at all about users’ preferences and needs, using
pxfont-sizes, making this feature useless,
- then users change their habits and use global zoom, even if it’s more complicated and the result is sometimes less practical5,
- then browsers hide or remove this feature, because they see in usage statistics that it is not used anymore,
- then people who really would need this feature don’t find it, don’t even know it exists,
- then most web developers, who are also web users, don’t know that this feature exists either, and that there are people out there who would be delighted to use it, so they don’t do anything to support that.
We — most web developers — collectively killed the feature by not allowing it to work as intended. We should try to focus on the users’ need, not the technical implementation (or lack thereof), before saying it’s not useful.
So, we might not be a lot to need — or even just want — to change the default font size of our browsers, but:
pxunit, you deny us this right,
emunit, you satisfy everyone6.
So, if you use
px for font-size, I hope it’s only because you didn’t know what it means, and I also hope you will change.
And please, please, don’t tell me using
rems is hard. It’s not. At all. You just need to think differently and use the appropriate tools. Read this again, and practice.
June 15th, 2018 update
I often call myself a troll, that’s not that harsh when I’m the one saying it…;-) ⬆︎
In french, sorry if you don’t understand it. ⬆︎
Think about websites that are not yet responsive, where zooming leads to messy horizontal scroll. ⬆︎
I never heard about users complaining about font sizes defined in
ems, only developers. ⬆︎
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