Don't Make Your Type Bigger

Can't read what?, I ask.

The part that says 'click below for more information'.

Oh, so you can read it?

Designers, use digression when receiving feedback to make your type bigger. More often than not, when the feedback is to make the type bigger, the size of the text is not the issue, readability is. There are a handful of solutions to increase readability without increasing text size, and potentially jeopardizing the integrity of the design. With certain exceptions, readability isn't as important as the design's purpose. As David Carson once said:

"Don't mistake legibility with communication."

design + surfer:dc foto ola, April 2013 – Poster by David Carson


"Hey David, could you make the words on the top just a little bigger? They're a little hard to read." This example is of course one of a poster, where artistic expression is arguably more important than legibility of each and every word. However, the narrative is driven by the composition that Carson chose in placement of type, color, and size. If a client, or design manager were to comment on a piece of work and ask to increase the size of type, the entire expression would be unauthentic. The designer's work would be soiled, and the poster would end up looking something like a word document. The point is, there is a limitation to non-creative feedback that exists in a body of work where readability is not the most important aspect of the design.

So what happens when readability is the most important aspect of design? Like a news app? Or a mobile website that has a general demographic for those over the age of 60? Still, legibility can be improved without conceding to the first person's feedback that asks to make the type bigger. First, every design, regardless of digital platform that is displaying information meant for a user to interact with and read should pass accessibility standards. For color, size, and contrast standards, webaim.org has a great tool to ensure that there is enough contrast between text and background that provide those with impaired vision to read. Even if it may technically pass the test with webaim, that doesn't mean you won't receive feedback to increase the size of your text.



Without providing further context to whatever the heading and body copy is in the above image, it is clear that the increased legibility was due to a change in type weight, rather than size itself. Even in situations where there is no body copy paired underneath a heading, this strategy can be enhanced with leading and letter-spacing.



With a greater tracking, the header appears bigger, and leaves smaller margins on each side of whatever the device or section is. This can be done in reverse order, too. With actually decreasing the size of the type, and increasing the size of the tracking. Not only will the heading have more style, it also gives the appearence of a wider, more balanced stance on the composition.



Design has purpose. When design involves readability it needs to be 100% accessible and dynamic to those with disabilities and vision impairments. Fortunately, with dynamic text, responsive design, and accessibility controls in virtually every device and reader, size of type can be adjusted to the preference of the user. For all intents and purposes, size is quite relative. That brings me to the final point, which is that just because these controls are available, it doesn't mean a standard of readability when necessary should be ignored. Failing to provide a streamline, readable design for the average person, and those with impairments, is bad design.

That being said, increasing the type size isn't always the answer, and should be used sparingly. As a designer, control the narrative. Direct the user where to go, what to read, and make it easy.