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I see some text-heavy sites implement the little JavaScript widgets that allow you to choose smaller or larger text sizes on sites. (e.g.: as described on the Guardian's website)

Are these little widgets worth the screen real estate they take up? If you have them on a site you webmaster, do you run any metrics to see if they are used?

Thoughts and studies on the usefulness of these widgets would be welcome.

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This is yet another case of a question that might be better asked (and already has been) on uxexchange.com –  Bobby Jack Aug 4 '10 at 17:11
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Hell Bobby Jack, if you're going to go to the trouble to refer to something and in doing so insult both this site and my question, you might as well include a link! :-) I went looking and found: uxexchange.com/questions/44/45 –  artlung Aug 4 '10 at 22:35
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Sorry artlung - I referenced it in my answer below but, you're right, I should have also included a link here. I didn't mean to insult this site (which is absolutely brilliant, just less relevant for usability questions) or your question (which is one of many suffering from this 'problem', as I implied). I'll start a thread on meta to try to deal with this more productively than just complaining in comments :) Cheers. –  Bobby Jack Aug 5 '10 at 8:50
    
And now uxexchange.com seems to be down. Good thing your question was answered here after all. –  kzh Apr 12 '13 at 18:33

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I think the most important thing is to make sure your sizes scale no matter if the user does it through a JavaScript widget you add or through a the browsers default support.

As for adding it or not, I think it depends on your targeted demographic. If you site is build for tech savvy people, I would definitely say no. If your site is built for older people who may not be so tech savvy, like online news sites or things like that then I would say yes it would be of use. Many times less savvy users won't know they can enlarge their text as a browser default and so they either struggle with the site or pass over it for ones with those options.

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The less tech savvy a person is, the more likely they are to have their font sizes fixed. They have a friend come over, and that person does an atomic option in the OS, not just one browser or another. –  MrChrister Jul 21 '10 at 19:04
    
@MrChrister - That is true. Some people don't have those tech savvy friends though. I think the number of cases where you will want it are pretty low. –  RandomBen Jul 21 '10 at 19:19
    
Good point. The un-asked question is do they cause more harm than good? I tend to think not, but we don't employ them I have no feedback on it. –  MrChrister Jul 21 '10 at 19:26

I have spoken to someone in the Royal London Society for the Blind who works with assistive technologies regarding a project I was working on for them, and he is dead against them for the simple reason that users who need to increase font size in order to be able to read the content will not see the widget in the first place!

I wouldn't waste the real estate, instead I would provide a nice accessibility statement including instructions on how to increase the font size using your browser.

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Great point. You'd need to make those widgets cover a large portion of the screen to be useful to begin with. –  deceze Nov 4 '10 at 3:42
    
To be fair, those widgets aren't exclusively for people who have severe eyesight problems. Sometimes people can read regular text, but changing it to larger font reduces strain on their eyes. –  Lèse majesté Nov 9 '10 at 7:49
    
I'm willing to bet there's a widget size that doesn't cover a large portion of the screen, and is also far more likely to be seen than the accessibility statement... –  Bobby Jack Nov 10 '10 at 23:58

I agonised over this one for ages for a site I worked on. There's a huge part of me that echoes Dan Diplo's feelings on the matter: it's built-in browser functionality, it doesn't need replicating in a subtly different way by every individual site on the www. If you add a font-sizing widget to your web site, you might as well also add 'print this page', 'go back', and 'bookmark this page' links all over the place.

BUT, people argued that other people didn't know how to resize the text in their browser. A lot of people don't even know that it's possible.

I started reading up on the matter, and thinking about it a little less passionately. In particular, I came across this question on uxexchange and the top-rated answer there just about had me convinced. I added the widget, in such a way that it's reasonably obvious without wasting valuable screen estate. I haven't looked back.

Other than the argument on the uxexchange post, my main reason for implementing the widget was the ignorance of font-sizing options in the browser. I wish everyone was more aware of that feature, but wishing it doesn't make it happen. I think it's a real shame that most of the browsers removed the prominent font sizing icons that used to be on the main toolbar - you have to go back as far as IE3 (!) to see this excellent feature (in that particular browser, at least). It's far more hidden than print, back, and bookmark and - mainly for that reason - I think the font-resizer widget is, on balance, justified.

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Good points, and it should be noted that usability is a separate issue from redundancy. A lot of application/system features are accessible or replicated in many places. The browser font resizing feature itself is technically redundant. Most browsers also have search shortcuts that are very useful but also redundant. –  Lèse majesté Nov 9 '10 at 8:04
    
Replicating features in different places or on different levels also allows you to put the feature in different contexts that change their behavior. A text resizing widget on a site can allow you to save the user's choice and render their entire session (and all future sessions) like that. In the case of sites using em-based layouts, you can also let the browser change the page "zoom" while the widget only changes text size. –  Lèse majesté Nov 9 '10 at 8:10

I say no, because the users around my office that prefer a larger font have it already set larger by default everywhere. They don't click those things any more often than I do.

It is far more important to make sure you sizes scale properly without blowing up your design, and assume a good percent of your users come to the site with something other than the default font size.

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Just to add my two penny worth - I also think they are a waste of time. Enlarging text and zooming is functionality that should be performed by the web browser (user agent), not the website. It is the website designer's responsibility to ensure this works when using the browser's in-built mechanism.

It is ridiculous to expect every website in the world to adopt some propriety means of re-sizing text, each with it's own UI, when this functionality is provided in a much better way by any decent browser. Any visually impaired user will already know how to perform this task via their browser and may well already have a custom style-sheet to over-ride font-sizes or have set an increased zoom level.

It is a variation on the old adage: Give a man a web page text-resizer and he can view one website. Teach a man how to re-size text via his browser and he can view any website for the rest of his life.

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I agree with you that, in an ideal world, this should be relegated to the browser (or the OS). But in the real world, many novice users don't know that they can change the font size in their browser. There are a lot of users out there that never take the time to explore their menus or accidentally held down Ctrl while scrolling the mouse. Putting the widget on screen makes it easier to access. I don't see any downside to this added convenience. –  Lèse majesté Nov 9 '10 at 7:52

I've thought about it and decided against it. You should make the website accessible meaning that you provide all the meaningful content but it does NOT mean you have to add a font-resizing widget, a contrast widget, etc. It's already built in the OS/Browser. They HAVE to learn how to use them and learn that it works for ALL websites, not just yours. It's a responsibility for all disabled people - I work with the blind, the deaf (I am deaf myself), and I am so annoyed that people who think that they should do everything to provide accessibility have no clue what it's REALLY about.

Disabled people do have to learn on their own to take advantage of the BUILT IN accessibility features and it's BAD when every website has its own widgets to cater to them. Think about it - you have a person who is far-sighted and that can be corrected with a pair of eyeglasses. Do you provide glasses for them while on your website then take them away when they leave the site? NO! It's a WRONG way to teach the disabled. I teach them HOW to use the Web with the built in accessibility features. They'd appreciate THAT kind of independence more because they realize it works for ALL accessible websites.

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That's nice that you build websites to teach the disabled how to use their browsers, but most other people build sites for visitors to use. Many of us or our employers/clients have businesses to run. We don't have the luxury of taking an ideological stance on where font adjustments ought to be made. If the user is unable to use your site, that means lost business. Your bottom line doesn't care if your users didn't take the time to learn every feature of their browser. –  Lèse majesté Nov 9 '10 at 20:28
    
No no, you're misunderstanding. I teach them IN PERSON and they find that it's MUCH better if they learned how to use the OS or browser builtin features for accessing the accessible websites. They do NOT benefit from using widgets. If you encoaurge them to find a widget, they won't. –  netrox Nov 10 '10 at 2:20
    
@neutron: I don't think any of us would argue that it's not preferable for every web user to fully understand how to use their browser. And it's admirable that you're helping to move the world in that direction. But the sad fact is that we're a long way off that ideal position, and - in the meantime - have to resort to 'fallbacks' so that no-one is left behind. –  Bobby Jack Nov 10 '10 at 23:55

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