The Rude Web
Disrespect as a Standard

How disrespect is implemented

Regarding text, web author styling most often starts, in no particular order, by including one of, or a variation thereof, these four generalized rule sets:

   A: body {color: #666;
            font-family: face1, face2, face3,...faceX, sans-serif;
            font-size: small;...
   B: body {color: #555;
            font-family: face1, face2, face3,...faceX, sans-serif;
            font-size:   76%;...
   C: body {color: #444;
            font-family: face1, face2, face3,...faceX, sans-serif;
            font-size: 62.5%;...
   D: body {color: #333;
            font-family: face1, face2, face3,...faceX, sans-serif;
            font-size:  12px;...

What these rule sets all have in common is:

  1. reducing below maximum the base contrast level between text and background
  2. base text size virtually certain to be smaller than the visitor's preference
  3. the visitor's preferred typeface will likely not be used anywhere

In summary, the styling serves foremost to make text harder to read than it would be in its absence. That's rude.

Color vis-a-vis contrast

Somewhere along the path of web evolution, someone got the bright idea that reducing contrast could improve legibility. This can certainly be true if certain conditions exist that may have existed when the genius' light bulb flashed. Such conditions may have included any or all of:

Likely the genius, and the many web stylists who have since followed his lead, are unaware that most flat panel displays are shipped by their makers with both brightness and contrast set at or near their maximums. The practice enables these devices to stand out as similar or better when placed unadjusted alongside others on brightly lit retail display shelves.

When those devices are not properly adjusted following purchase and normal use, they typically degrade more quickly than average from being overdriven. After a few years, or less, and certainly before the end of a normal product life, the degradation leads to a need to raise the brightness and/or contrast settings that is possible to minimal or no extent because that's where the settings already are.

It has been posited that a computer display as a light source is inherently different from magazine and book pages, a characteristic which justifies a brightness and/or contrast adjustment to prevent discomfort from an overbright light source. While it may certainly be true that that can happen, no web author is in any position to know it to be so except on a display she can herself see. Thus any assumption that a contrast reduction expressly for the purpose of increasing viewing comfort improves his work product actually amounts to an imposition upon a substantial number of those viewing it. Only the actual viewer is in position to decide if reduced contrast is better.

Base Text Size

The size of a device pixel varies according to device size and resolution, both of which exist in wide variation, meaning the stylist has no reliable idea how big it is except on a device she's looking at. While a CSS pixel is at least theoretically more predictable in size than a device pixel, as a practical matter there's little or no difference on a computer display between it and a device pixel, given current and near future technology. Setting a base text size in px totally disregards visitor preferences and requirements. It's hard to imagine a much better way to define the word "rude"....

...Until you consider the implication of those 76%, small, and 62.5% sample rules above. Is it really possible for everyone's default to be oversize, and thus in need of (arbitrary) "correction" (reduction) by the designer? Surely not, even though the overwhelming majority of web stylists' work might lead one to believe so.

The browser's default size is presumptively the most appropriate size for every user. It's relatively easily altered by the user according to his personal requirements and preferences when the initial size provided by browser installation is less than ideal. In contrast, the web stylist has no actual knowledge about the visitor's viewing environment, and is in no position to know if anything is wrong with a visitor's browser default setting. Thus, setting the base text size to some fraction of that size, particularly because there's no way for the stylist to know how large or small it happens to be, makes it arbitrary, and thus another very good definition of the word "rude".



Poor legibility pervades the web.




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