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During the last years, there has been gradual increasing of the Web sites and programs UI font sizes. Even Google increased the font size.

Could this be because of the aging population of the Internet? Should I increase the default font sizes on my sites and programs UI?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

I don't think it's so much to do with the ageing population of the internet. In fact

Over the past five years the number of people online, aged 65 and over, has remained relatively static

Ageing and the use of the internet

I think the change that you're seeing is down to two things:

1) Changing display size and DPI. A 14px font isn't going to be readable on a 3840 x 2160 display. Or on a smartphone held at arms length.

2) An understanding that the font size was often actually too small to start with. It's not that the population of the internet is massively different - it's that folk have finally woken up to the fact that large chunks of the world aren't viewing their product with 20/20 vision in perfect viewing conditions. Font sizes being too small is something I've seen come up again and again in usability tests for the last 15-20 odd years.

As to whether you need to increase the font size of your sites — that depends on whether they're too small ;-)

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Yes, for a long time font sizes were too small. The research has been out there for a long time, luckily we are finally seeing the sizes update. I think responsive design is responsible for shedding a lot of light on font sizes. – Jason Jan 29 at 20:15

The increase in font sizes are more related to a greater emphasis on legibility and readability with content than an aging population. The world in general has also moved more online, which has increase the thinking and attention in these areas. We're taking the lessons we've learned in other areas and applying it (where applicable) to our new mediums, adjusting as we need to.

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Jeffrey Zeldman had a good article about readability when he changed his site back in 2012 to have a much larger font. The Oliver Reichstein article posted by Michael Lai has the excellent example of "compare to a book that you feel comfortable reading, then change the font size until the type on the book and the screen are about the same size" – icc97 Jan 30 at 9:19

I think there may be a couple of other reasons for the change in font size in addition to those listed. I don't think it's necessarily age related.

Previously web designers were in complete control. In my experience, we do more user testing now, which means that designers get to hear feedback such as "I can barely read that article" or "My sight's not perfect so, it might take me a minute to find...", etc.

I also think we're much more aware of 'accessibility' issues than we were a few years ago. With WCAG 2.0, Section 508, AODA, etc., many organizations now have to comply with mandatory accessibility legislation. While this doesn't dictate a minimum font size, I think designers are more apt to consider the needs of their audience above the aesthetics of the site.

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I think part of the reason we are seeing larger font sizes across the web is that web designers and users are placing more importance on the clarity of content. Sites like Medium or Smashing Magazine, for example, often publish articles with large swathes of content relating to their subject, and larger text is par for the course - it keeps things clean, but legible and accessible, and we have way more web font choices than we ever used to have.

The old '10-12px Verdana' paragraph font sizes of Web 1.0. just don't cut it any more, on almost every level: accessibility, legibility, clarity, adaptability (in a responsive web context) and, last but not least, aesthetic beauty. I love that web designers are treating web typography with a greater respect now than they ever have; it is extremely important to our medium, and to cut a long story short, we have the technology. ;)

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Devices have also gotten a lot bigger. 10 years ago users primarily used 14" monitors. Now it is very common to see even the most novice users to have an 18" display or more.

In addition phone screens have gotten much bigger. Mechanical keypads have pretty much been removed completely in favor of digital keypads that are visible / hidden depending on the view.

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There are lots of good reasons to change the font size, and because the decision has been largely based on previous assumptions of print design guidelines and principles, with more testing and usability analysis more practitioners and designers are making the choice to change to a bigger default font size.

You might be interested in the primary article that argues for the readability/legibility side of things by Oliver Reichenstein, and a more general article that covers other areas from Smashing Magazine

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