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Johann Sparkling 96pt
Web Typography

Compromises, compromises!

As every experienced Web designer should know all too well, good online page design involves more than just making things look right in their preferred browser. As many viewers are likely to be using PCs, and as various versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari and so on are widely used, pages need to be checked in as many popular browsers as possible, and on both Macs and PCs.

But just how far should someone go towards making their pages work across every conceivable kind of browser? Should they design to fit the lowest common denominator, ensuring that the site works on everything from the latest Macs and PCs down to WebTV machines and PDAs? And what about those that like to use their monitors set to the highest possible eye-searing resolution, or, at the other extreme, have large monitors set to relatively low resolutions such as 800x600 or even 640x480 pixels?

While it is wise to consider the different kinds of computers and browsers people will use to see your site, the importance of total portability can be overstressed. You have to consider your audience. For example, if the site is for a freelance illustrator and it is specifically for art directors, it doesn't make sense to spend time, effort and money on making it work in browsers and on screen sizes that those visitors simply won't use.

One technique which works around the annoying issue of point sizes, where PC browsers prefer to show fonts significantly larger than Mac browsers, is to set type using pixel sizes rather than points - or ems, keyword sizes and the rest of the 'absolutely relative' crowd of formatting controls. See HTML Formatting for details.

Setting type using "px" locks it to a fixed pixel size. This used to disable the option found in certain browser to scale text sizes up and down on demand, but this is generally no longer the case.

If you are faced with such problems there are generally three choices you can take. One, you can compromise the layout to fit all possible viewers. Two, design alternative versions tailored to different requirements. Or three, produce something which works well on the majority of viewers at the expense of a few.

The first approach may mean starting from scratch and losing most design finesse. The second adds to design and maintenance workloads, even if clever CSS reformatting tricks are used. And the third just dodges the issue!