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Typography for Web Designers

Understanding ems


From:

Typography for Web Designers

with Laura Franz

Video: Understanding ems

Up until now all of our text has been set using pixels. Pixels are great, because they give us control over the design and because anyone with previous experience with pixel-based software like Photoshop already knows how to think in pixels. For example, here is a low- quality pixel-based image. We can see the pixels creating a jagged edge, but pixels pose a problem. They're not flexible. A pixel is a pixel and they cannot be re- sized or scaled in all browsers or on all devices.
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  1. 6m 18s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 57s
    3. Things to consider before starting this course
      3m 12s
  2. 41m 3s
    1. Understanding how good typography promotes reading
      2m 9s
    2. Understanding legibility
      4m 41s
    3. Understanding how fonts convey meaning
      5m 19s
    4. Choosing web-safe fonts to convey meaning
      6m 13s
    5. Using font size, case, style, letter spacing, weight, and color to convey meaning
      6m 22s
    6. Choosing web fonts to convey meaning
      6m 23s
    7. Downloading web fonts
      4m 9s
    8. Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
      5m 47s
  3. 38m 0s
    1. Choosing a web-safe font for use in text
      4m 13s
    2. Applying the web-safe font to the text and the heading
      3m 4s
    3. Setting a class for the resource titles in the text
      3m 45s
    4. Choosing a second web-safe font for the heading
      2m 42s
    5. Applying the second font to the heading
      2m 16s
    6. Choosing a web font from the Google Font API for use in text
      5m 44s
    7. Adding and applying the Google Font API syntax
      4m 29s
    8. Choosing a second web font from the Google Font API for the heading
      2m 56s
    9. Adding and applying the second font to the heading
      4m 52s
    10. Analyzing the fonts on some professional sites
      3m 59s
  4. 55m 31s
    1. Understanding how we read
      4m 34s
    2. Finding and applying a good font size and line height
      4m 50s
    3. Finding and applying a good line length
      8m 6s
    4. Understanding ems
      6m 17s
    5. Using ems to set font size
      6m 9s
    6. Using ems to set line length
      3m 40s
    7. Understanding how color affects readability
      3m 58s
    8. Improving a color palette by improving contrast
      5m 39s
    9. Improving a color palette by reducing optical vibration
      4m 59s
    10. Analyzing text readability on the professional sites
      7m 19s
  5. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements
      3m 59s
    2. Developing a system of hierarchy
      2m 17s
    3. Applying hierarchy in HTML and CSS
      7m 16s
    4. Developing a system to help chunk text for readers
      6m 1s
    5. Applying the system in the CSS
      4m 19s
    6. Changing an element by creating and applying a class
      5m 0s
    7. Using multiple columns to create hierarchy
      4m 12s
    8. Building a two-column system in HTML and CSS
      10m 56s
    9. Refining the horizontal space in a two-column layout
      6m 1s
    10. Adding rule lines to improve chunking
      5m 50s
    11. Adding emphasis within a heading
      4m 36s
    12. Analyzing the chunking on the professional sites
      11m 18s
  6. 17m 57s
    1. Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
      7m 3s
    2. Understanding how to create rhythm and tension
      6m 0s
    3. Applying typography skills when making design decisions
      4m 54s
  7. 55m 47s
    1. Designing typographic links for the traditional page
      5m 54s
    2. Adding a list of links to the traditional page
      8m 44s
    3. Describing the link states in CSS
      6m 30s
    4. Returning links to their original "unvisited" style
      2m 38s
    5. Using different CSS for different kinds of links
      7m 28s
    6. Using CSS notation to organize syntax
      5m 34s
    7. Choosing a background color or image
      4m 0s
    8. Applying a repeating background image
      2m 58s
    9. Shaping the traditional page layout
      6m 38s
    10. Analyzing the traditional typographic elements on the professional sites
      5m 23s
  8. 43m 0s
    1. Designing typographic links for the modernist page
      6m 47s
    2. Making a list of links run across the page
      2m 14s
    3. Adding and removing space between the navigation links
      6m 50s
    4. Styling the inline links on the modernist page
      5m 33s
    5. Choosing a background color or image for the modernist bibliography
      4m 4s
    6. Applying a no-repeat background image
      4m 13s
    7. Shaping the modernist page layout
      6m 58s
    8. Analyzing the modernist typographic elements on the professional sites
      6m 21s
  9. 52m 53s
    1. Fixing quotation marks and apostrophes
      6m 59s
    2. Fixing dashes
      6m 33s
    3. Working with lining figures (numbers) and acronyms
      9m 28s
    4. Fixing characters that don't look right
      8m 19s
    5. Hanging punctuation
      2m 54s
    6. Applying typographic accents
      2m 36s
    7. Vertically centering text
      5m 18s
    8. Creating drop caps
      5m 59s
    9. Analyzing the typographic details on the professional sites
      4m 47s
  10. 3m 9s
    1. Additional resources
      3m 9s

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Typography for Web Designers
6h 25m Appropriate for all Jul 14, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Learn how to choose fonts for a web site and create beautiful, legible type. Author Laura Franz shares how to create designs that maximize readability (and keep visitors on the page) by paying attention to details in size, line-height, line length, alignment, color, vertical space, and more. Laura also demonstrates how to incorporate web fonts, style type with CSS, and pick fonts that work well together.

Topics include:
  • Understanding how good typography promotes reading
  • Choosing web-safe fonts
  • Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
  • Adding and applying the Google Fonts syntax
  • Finding and applying a good font size, line height, and line length
  • Improving a color palette by improving contrast and reducing optical vibration
  • Understanding how people mentally organize, or chunk, visual elements
  • Applying a system of hierarchy in HTML and CSS
  • Applying vertical spacing in CSS
  • Adding emphasis within a heading
  • Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
  • Adding a list of links
  • Creating drop caps
  • Fixing quotation marks, apostrophes, and dashes
Subjects:
Typography Web Web Design Web Fonts Web Foundations
Software:
TextWrangler
Author:
Laura Franz

Understanding ems

Up until now all of our text has been set using pixels. Pixels are great, because they give us control over the design and because anyone with previous experience with pixel-based software like Photoshop already knows how to think in pixels. For example, here is a low- quality pixel-based image. We can see the pixels creating a jagged edge, but pixels pose a problem. They're not flexible. A pixel is a pixel and they cannot be re- sized or scaled in all browsers or on all devices.

For example, in Internet Explorer text set in pixels cannot be scaled. This can pose a problem if a reader needs their text bigger or smaller but doesn't want to change the overall layout of the page. Thus we have ems. What is an em? Think of an em as a square. It can be used to set height or width just like a pixel. But what does 1 em mean? The basic em equals 100% of the browser's default font-size which is 16 pixels.

So 1 em is often 16 pixels, but an em is more than that. An em is a relative unit of measurement. That means it allows us as designers to set a measurement relative to another measurement. Here it's relative to the browser's default font size. We can set a measurement of 0.5 em, which is 8 pixels. We can set a measurement of 1.5 em, which is 24 pixels, but an em is even more than that.

Readers can change their browser's default font size. If they do so, an element using an em will also change in size, because ems are relative to that default font size. So a reader can set their text bigger or smaller and all elements using ems will get bigger or smaller too. Readers who tend to need bigger text can set their browser's default font size larger. Here I've changed it from 16 pixels to 24 pixels.

They will automatically see bigger text and headings. If a site uses ems, readers will automatically see bigger text and headings, but on this site the text and headings still look smaller. That's because this site uses pixels to size the text. Pixels are not relative and don't change when we change the base font size. So how do we use ems to set font size? First we figure out how many ems to make the text. Take the target size, that is, size you want the text to be, divide by the default font size, and that will give you the number of ems you need to use.

For example, if you want 12 pixel text, divide it by 16 pixels, which is our default base font size, and you'll know you need to set it at 0.75 ems. If you want 24 pixel text divide it by 16 pixels and you'll know to use 1.5 ems then use those measurements in your CSS. Here the p tag is set to 0.75 ems, which we figured out a moment ago, and the h1 is set to 1.5 ems, which we figured out a moment ago.

There are our pros and cons to using ems. Text that is set in ems is flexible. It can be re-sized across browsers by the reader. This is important, because only the reader knows what device they are using and what size they need the text at, so they can read it more easily and our first priority is our reader. But there are cons to using ems too. It's hard to start thinking in ems. We have experience designing with pixels and until we get more experience using ems most of us will think of 1 em as 16 pixels.

That means there is math involved and it's not hard math, but it is an extra step in the design. To make matters more complicated, ems can be used to set the measurement of your line height, margins, padding, and div widths. It can be used in classes and some of these elements are relative to each other. Thus the meaning of what 1 em is can change as the layout becomes more complex. For example, if we're figuring out a font size, we know that 1.5 ems = 1.5 times the base font size.

So 1.5 ems is 24 pixels. But if we're figuring out the line height the relative measurement changes. 1.5 ems means 1.5 times the font size. So 1.5 ems is 36 pixels and this can take some getting used to. Finally, I do not recommend working only with flexible type sizes. As you can see in the screenshot of alistapart.com, when text gets bigger it needs more room to live in.

It needs a longer line length to maintain optimal readability and while browsers like Internet Explorer won't let a reader change the text size, it will allow readers to zoom in or out of an entire layout, thus keeping the page intact. For example, browsers allow readers to start with a page like this one and zoom in on the whole page. Balancing the pros and cons, you can expect me to continue using pixels for most of this course.

I believe in fluid web design. If you're interested in learning more about flexible pages as well as flexible type, I recommend reading Fluid Grids by Ethan Marcotte at alistapart.com and I'll continue to touch on ems. In fact, I'll walk you through how to actually use ems in the next lesson, but I'm going to keep it as simple as possible. If you're not already familiar with ems, this is not the time to become experts in using them. Now is the time to focus on type, while getting a basic sense of what an em is as preparation for the future.

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