May 30, 2008 in Web Usability

Web Browser Usability Issue


I just wanted to voice my concern that even though Internet Explorer is working on version 8 and Firefox into its terrible 2’s already, the browser designers are still missing a massive usability issue. One of the most common tasks when browsing the internet is adjusting text size and I believe this isn’t given enough emphasis.

The issue has worsened in recent years probably due to the popularity of laptops and flat screen monitors with their higher resolutions. With a budget £350 laptop from Tesco’s coming as default 1280 x 1024, the default browser text size is tiny. I know my grandad bought one, it is with him in mind that I make my plee.

Plee to the Browser Gods

Please give more emphasis to enlarging text and stop hiding this functionality in a drop down menu out the way, I know Internet Explorer 7 brought text size a little more into the limelight but I truly think this issue is being ignored and from my personal experience most new internet users, especially of the older generation are still having to search through their browser drop down menus to enlarge text.

You must remember that as we age often our memory span is affected, so lets make this change before I have to struggle too, as I also resize text often on the web.

The power of text size is with the web designer and I’m afraid their are still a lot of websites still have a very small text size, for me even our beloved A List Apart the text size is too small, I enlarge it.

Common text symbolism

A lot of users already associate certain symbols with text and any of these could be used as an icon on the web browser to signify text adjustment:

In Microsoft’s Word and other popular Microsoft office software the text is adjusted by a single capitalized “A”, It’s probably an “A” as this is the first letter of the alphabet.

Personally I prefer Adobe Photoshop CS3’s function of using a capitalized “T”. The “T” must stand for “text”. Strangely enough in Adobe’s CS3 suite; Fireworks uses an “A” to add text and Photoshop uses a “T” to add text.

If you search around hard enough you’ll also find some websites using either 3 T’s or 3 A’s signaling the various levels of text adjustment.

Final Thought

I have watched my Grandad, my mum, dad, friends and peers that are new and even competent in web browsing struggling to read the text on websites, I adjust the text size often too, I believe this function should be given greater emphasis and its own symbol or icon in the main visible section of web browsers. Your thoughts on my ranting please?


About Anthony

Anthony Brewitt is Design Bit, has been for years - he's an experienced WordPress Designer, and Muggle-born Marketing Philosopher. Let’s talk about your website; your marketing, blog design, and that cool new mobile web thingy. Contact Anthony

13 Responses to Web Browser Usability Issue

  1. If browser devs started putting all the user features on the toolbars instead of under a logical menu then browsers would become cluttered and confuse users with a bombardment of buttons.

    I for one like the uncluttered interface, although thats maybe just me.

    Users should simply LEARN how to use a browser, the same as they have to learn to use a car, or a piece of machinery

  2. It would be nice if developers didn’t have to 1) provide widgets or 2) teach users how to use their browser.

  3. @ Vince -Imagine if every website controlled text size; the option to do this would be in different places on the page, different styles on every website, different increments in text size with a click of a button – i think this needs to be standardized, and by giving this power to the web browser whatever website the users is on they would know how to resize the text and wouldn’t have to crawl through menus to achieve this.

  4. Surely the fundamental question is (if this is a usability issue) how often do you need to change the text size on your browser. If the answer for most people is frequently, then you are probably right. If it’s very occasionally, then it makes no sense at all to have it in the main tool bar. In this case, the most appropriate solution is asking you what default text size you want when you install the browser.

    Alternatively, as the needs of designers and developers are fundamentally different to most users, you might want the facility to create your own bespoke toolbar. But saying something should be in the main toolbar just because you want it, isn’t really usability as I understand it.

  5. The average vanilla desktop browser install has around 6 top level menu items (e.g File, Edit, Help etc). Given the size of screens these days, I don’t see how the addition of 1 or 2 extra – and undoubtedly useful – options would hurt. If you’re technically-minded enough to want a stripped down interface, re-configure the primary toolbar to remove them. At least, that way, the changes can be made by those with the technical skills/confidence to do so.

    @Vince: I’ve been driving and owning cars for 20 years. Still don’t know how to tune an engine. That’s what mechanics are for. Unless, of course, you think that all learner divers should be able to carry out basic engine disassembly and re-assembly before they can pass their driving test?

    @Anthony: I’m right behind you on the pleas to the browser gods. It’s ridiculous that such useful functionality is hidden away in 3rd level sub-menus. Not sure about the use of “3T” though. As a conceptual symbol, it doesn’t mean a thing to me and I do use Office applications pretty regularly. Personally, I’d just like to see something like “Zoom In” and “Zoom Out” or similar.

  6. bon

    I think IE7’s zoom menu down in the taskbar is a very good (and fairly standardised) place to put to page zoom controls. It’s obvious enough to spot at a glance, yet it stays out the way. Much better than having it up in the toolbar.

    On a vaguely related note, I do wish IE7 would default to text zooming and not full page zooming. It looks like Firefox 3 might follow this trend too. What a nightmare.

  7. bon

    Whoops, I meant “down in the status bar”.

  8. I use ctrl+scroll to change the text size in my browser. But a small button in the status bar would be more useful ofcourse.

  9. I also use crtl+scroll.

    If a site takes accessibility seriously then no doubt they’ll feature some sort of ‘3T’ type option or as I do, create with em’s as my font size – leaving it to the user or browser to increase as they see fit..

  10. I think the issue is that not all Web sites have a text re-sizing function, and even if they did, they wouldn’t all work the same. I believe it should be on the browser’s end to take care of these types of issues.

  11. Yeh, ctrl+scroll is what I use too.

    I do like the idea of minamalistic browsers, although a small “T” would be fine next to the zoom function at the bottom right in IE7.

  12. I agree with Mark Gristock. I think the majority of users do not need to change the text size that often so why take up valuable space and in turn making the browser window cluttered.

  13. Rob

    It should not be too hard to impliment, maybe the bottom right of the status bar….

    For those that know how, the CTRL & + or CTRL & scroll will suffice. Although these functions should be needed very occassionally as if a website has been designed to be accessible then the user should not need to zoom in.

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