Teach a Man to Fish (or How to Resize Text)

My esteemed colleague Patrick Lauke is a firm believer in not providing widgets on individual web pages to do things such as resizing text on a page - on the basis that it’s site-specific and doesn’t teach the user how to change the font size for other web sites that don’t provide these controls.

This issue pops up time and time again, and it has done again on another forum where the phrase ‘teach a man to fish’ has appeared once more. It got me thinking, maybe it would be best to show the user how to change the font size rather than simply describe it. With that in mind, I put together some video clips, joined them together in iMovie and did a voice-over to explain how it’s possible. Here’s the end result (actually, this is version 2, which takes on board some of the comments in this post):

I’m interested to hear your feedback. Is this useful? Could you see people wanting to embed this on their accessibility page?

So, if you like this, blog about it, link to it, embed it in your accessibility statement if you think it could be useful to the user.

<object width="425" height="350"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/54iSS7KVcos"></param><param name="wmode" value="transparent"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/54iSS7KVcos" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" wmode="transparent" width="425" height="350"></embed></object>

And if people do think a video tutorial for this kind of thing is useful, what else could we cover off on the accessibility front, specifically how the user can change their browser without requiring site-specific page widgets (e.g. teach the user how to change background and foreground colours). Over to you for any suggestions you may have on that front.

A transcript of the video is available here.

Posted by Ian on Tuesday, September 18, 2007


  1. So says JackP

    The obvious thought would be to provide a video showing how to do it in different browsers and on different platforms, and then the user can choose which video to watch that is appropriate to their configuration.

    (Apologies if you’ve already got that covered, but YouTube is blocked at work so I can’t see it!)

    Added September 18, 2007 at 9:55 am

  2. So says zooey

    As I understood from the video, the text-resizing feature doesn’t work in IE6 and earlier if the website is built in a specific way. However, this feature doesn’t work on IE7 too, if font-sizes fot the web page are specified in pixels.

    Added September 18, 2007 at 9:59 am

  3. So says Chris Heilmann

    good step, however, the non-zoomed IE interface is hard to read for me, so how would that tutorial benefit someone with even worse eyesight?

    Added September 18, 2007 at 10:01 am

  4. So says Robin

    A good first attempt, but unfortunately at Youtube resolutions if you need those options in the first place it’s hard to see what you’re doing in the video (especially in the IE6 example).

    Added September 18, 2007 at 11:13 am

  5. So says Ian

    @zooey - I don’t use IE7 personally, but my understanding was that when you zoomed, it didn’t matter if fonts were set in pixels. I only have a ‘cracked’ version of IE7 available (that is when you run multiple IE versions on one machine) and I’m not so sure that it behaves the same as a legit copy.

    Agreed that YouTube size makes it difficult to see some of the options - I can change those sections. What I might do is show some of it in context (ie the whole screen) and then zoom into the control itself, much like on the intro when everything is super zoomed.

    Added September 18, 2007 at 11:25 am

  6. So says JackP

    the ‘zoom’ feature and ‘text size’ feature on IE7 are different. The Zoom version will (in a similar sort of way to Opera), scale up everything on the page, including text rendered in pixel sizes.

    However IE7 still also offers the ‘text size’ feature which would allow you to scale up text without affecting images etc, and this feature still does not scale up pixel sizes.

    Added September 18, 2007 at 12:43 pm

  7. So says Ian

    Thanks for clarifying this, Jack. I’ll edit that section accordingly later :)

    Added September 18, 2007 at 1:16 pm

  8. [...] Teach a Man to Fish (or How to Resize Text) Good screencast on how to customize your browser with resize icons. (tags: accessibility howto screencast) [...]

    Added September 19, 2007 at 1:26 am

  9. So says dotjay

    I wonder how many people still use IE6 and are unaware that you can override the problem of not being able to resize font sizes set in pixels: Internet Options > Accessibility… (under General tab), then select “Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages”. Doing this and then using the Text Size options under the View menu will work on all websites.

    Added September 19, 2007 at 12:08 pm

  10. So says paul canning


    I’ve used your video. It’s pretty useful I think.

    pul canning

    Added September 19, 2007 at 2:17 pm

  11. So says AJ

    I don’t really think that would be of much help for the average user. Most people won’t change any setting, customize any bar and leave alone download and install an extension.

    I think the solution should come from MS, Mozilla etc. to put those icons on the toolbar as default. Sure a lot of people would use the text zooming if it were available as a button in the toolbar. Most people are not comfortable with those designer’s tiny fonts, as we all know.

    While that does not happen, I think that to put the same icons and functionality on the website is not that bad a solution.

    Added September 20, 2007 at 3:30 pm

  12. [...] Textgröße dargestelt, die sich der User in den Einstellungen seines Browsers selbst gewählt hat. AccessifyWebdesignIch habe bis auf Weiteres vor Allem aufgrund der Rechtssprechung davon Abstand genommen, [...]

    Added September 21, 2007 at 10:07 am

  13. So says Siegfried

    I think you’re basically wrong. The only valid method of resizing text would be not to do it. A page which makes it necessary for the user to manually adapt the text size to his needs is wrong designed. A well designed page always displays in exactly that text size the user has chosen once in his browser settings. Once! No manual adjustment necessary for every single page. So consequently the only valid text size for the main content is exactly 100%. Other text sizes should adapt to this size in some relative way, if possible. There may be very few cases where you need fixed text size, but generally any text size is somewhat relative to 100%, where what 100% is is set up by the user in his browser settings.
    So the question is not, how to provide the user with a most usable way to adapt the text size, but how to design a page which makes it unnecessary to adapt the text size.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 10:12 am

  14. So says Ian

    @AJ I agree that the browser makers should just put it there by default - that would be the best solution, but I disagree that teaching the user how to do for themself is a bad idea. I really can’t see how that can be the case.

    @Siegried - “A page which makes it necessary for the user to manually adapt the text size to his needs is wrong designed.” You are trolling, right? People are different and thus people’s eyesight differs. You can’t have a web site with a font size that works for *everyone*. What I think is the perfect size, you may think otherwise.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 10:58 am

  15. So says Paul Walker


    No. While people should mostly be specifying text in relative sizes, one font size is not always good for everyone - and, for most people, the default font size (16pt) is too large, while for those with bad eyesight, it is too small, and the font size you use by default will depend on your audience, considering how few people do change font sizes.

    For instance, I think the text on this site is a bit too large (actually, a lot too large) - in Safari, I have this page set to the minimum font size (this means that the body text is 9pt) - Most people would hate this. While it would be great to know everyone has set their font sizings to their liking, and act accordingly, the truth is, they haven’t. Your average user will be better off with a main font size of say, 85%, if only because most other sites do too, and so most users set the font accordingly.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 1:35 pm

  16. So says JackP

    Ian -
    I think you’ve missed Siegfried’s point. He’s saying that if you use 100% of whatever the viewer has set as their default, that you’re providing the perfect option for everyone; not that everyone should see the same size.

    And, in theory, he’s right. But there are two practical problems.

    Firstly, most people don’t set their defaults in this manner; they’ll just leave it at whatever the browser default is and squint at the screen if necessary.

    Secondly, while the majority of designers are setting their fonts to around 80% or suchlike, anyone using 100% will find that many people find their text too big, and it will be their site that is perceived as the problem, despite the fact that they are more accurately reflecting the user’s (theoretical) preferences because “everyone else’s site displays fine”.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 2:07 pm

  17. So says Dave

    I find it elegantly funny that instructions on making a page more usable for low-vision users are provided as a video. The video will be useful to some, but don’t forget a text equivalent! : )

    Added September 21, 2007 at 3:01 pm

  18. So says Ian

    @Dave - I hear ya (and see ya). I have got the transcript but just hadn’t got around to posting it here. I’ll upload it later.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 3:59 pm

  19. [...] Ian Lloyd, of Accessify, has taken to video trying to address the text-resizing problem. You can see the video at his own relevant blog post — Teach a man to fish (or how to resize text). [...]

    Added September 21, 2007 at 8:07 pm

  20. So says Laura Whitehead

    I’ll be writing later about this and the transcript on my blog. It’s something I totally agree with and encourage my clients to do rather than opt for those text resizing codes which inhibit wider usability in my eyes (especially when sites have lots of outgoing links!). Splashcast and Blip.tv are other good methods for videocasts.

    Added September 21, 2007 at 8:37 pm

  21. [...] don’t know how to resize the text on their browsers for easier reading while web surfing. A handy article on this issue has been written by Ian Lloyd at Accessify.com. Ian has even created a video to show [...]

    Added September 21, 2007 at 8:42 pm

  22. [...] support on sites. Ian Lloyd, in cooperation with Accessify.com, has taken it one step further by Teaching a man to fish (or how to resize text). He’s created a video and is suggesting that site owners, or developers, link to it or embed [...]

    Added September 21, 2007 at 11:41 pm

  23. [...] Lloyd is on a mission, to educate people about resizing text using their browser and eventually eliminating the JavaScript based text resizing widgets. Not [...]

    Added September 23, 2007 at 11:38 am

  24. So says Markus

    One thing many people don’t realize is that changing font size in IE6/IE7 is a permanent setting. I can’t count the numbers anymore how often people managed to get to our tech dep. when their real problem is that they managed to change their setting and now it affects our site, too. We built our site with relative font sizes, and now people tell us “your site is broken, it’s too big” because other sites don’t look resized. Because they use px values.

    Added September 24, 2007 at 7:27 pm

  25. [...] Ian Lloyd has made a video that shows people how to resize text in all the popular bowsers called Teach a Man to Fish (or How to Resize Text) which he wants people to link to instead of arsing around with text resize widgets. Do it, or Lauke [...]

    Added September 24, 2007 at 9:26 pm

  26. [...] your font size for your browser to make your viewing more enjoyable, and usable. As was posted on accessify.com, a great video by Ian Lloyd shows how to resize your browsers font size to your personal liking. [...]

    Added September 26, 2007 at 2:15 am

  27. [...] idea for this series came from a post on the Accessify blog about teaching users to resize text on web pages. Old hands like me sometimes forget what it was like starting with OS X when I didn’t know [...]

    Added September 26, 2007 at 6:31 am

  28. [...] there has been a lot of talk lately about text-size, making accommodating text-size widgets, or trying to teach users what they can do [...]

    Added September 28, 2007 at 6:35 am

  29. So says Laura Whitehead

    I thought I’d just follow up my previous comment. I blogged about this video, and included some suggestions of what I would like to see to enable more accessibility with any future video ideas like this in the future. Mainly a better quality screencast if it is to be made widely available for others to use/promote, and also captioning is a must too! This is supposed to be about making the internet more usable and inclusive and accessible to all, so the video will need to be accessible in as many ways as it can.

    Added October 3, 2007 at 12:11 pm

  30. So says Richard Garside

    I think the video is a great idea, but I wouldn’t show the instructions for all browsers to all people.

    I’d bring the video into flash and start by having a ‘choose your browser’ button. Then I’d just play them the bit for their browser.

    We already have instructions on our site on how to do this, but I think the video makes it so much easier and clearer. Plus people are more likely to read it. However, I’d take out some of the background info and keep it short, snappy, and practical.

    Added October 12, 2007 at 1:03 am

  31. [...] Accessify: latest news / Teach a Man to Fish (or How to Resize Text) [...]

    Added October 19, 2007 at 7:43 pm

  32. [...] I meant to post a link to Ian Lloyd’s “Teach a man to fish…” demonstration. My esteemed colleague has produced a very nice video demonstration of how to re-size text in a [...]

    Added November 15, 2007 at 11:11 pm

  33. [...] developers of the self-imposed responsibility of doing things they shouldn’t have to. Ian is Teaching a man to fish (or how to resize text). In fact, he created a video on the subject and it’s quite good. For anyone who cannot view [...]

    Added November 27, 2007 at 7:46 am

  34. [...] developers of the self-imposed responsibility of doing things they shouldn’t have to. Ian is Teaching a man to fish (or how to resize text). In fact, he created a video on the subject and it’s quite good. For anyone who cannot view [...]

    Added November 28, 2007 at 2:50 pm

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