Dan, you’re right, using pixels again does beg the question: what about Internet Explorer? Obviously that question is out of the scope of the article, but certainly not the discussion. I’ve recorded some of my thoughts on it “here”:http://www.wilsonminer.com/posts/2007/mar/16/problem-pixels/, but I don’t think those that relate to IE are fleshed-out enough to warrant a practical recommendation. The practical outcome is that we can’t ignore IE6 yet, and IE7 hasn’t fully solved the problem yet.
I do think it’s important to frame the discussion around this as an accessibility problem with a browser, and what we as designers have a responsibility to do to work around that problem so our users don’t have to.
A lot of the response I’ve seen to weighing the merits of using pixels again boils down to something along the lines of _Didn’t we solve this problem already? Use ems._ I see the point, but I’m not sure I buy it. The problem is solved the same way the problem with IE5’s box model was solved with Tantek’s hack. Which is to say it wasn’t really a permanent solution. Richard’s “62.5% technique”:http://clagnut.com/blog/348/, like Tantek’s box model hack, is a clever workaround for a broken browser—it’s a (very good) hack.
There’s nothing wrong with a hack, but it’s not ideal and it’s not permanent. It’s what we can do with the resources at hand. With the perfect concoction of unusual percentages and fractions, we can almost achieve something as simple and basic as sizing body text at 12 point, headers at 18 point and sidebars at 11 point.
You might say I’m overstating the complexity. It’s not that bad, really. Just keep a calculator handy, or use one of the tools available and deal with it. But this is baby games. We’re not even out of the gates and already it’s this complicated. We’re not even doing anything advanced here. We’re sizing text. Think what we could be devoting all this ingenuity and clever hackery to accomplishing if IE just worked right.
So you can say that it’s not really that complicated, and that you don’t see any real benefit to using pixels and I’m not going to argue with you. Every project has different requirements and different constraints. Ems are a great tool for dealing with relative sizing, but I honestly don’t think it’s sustainable to use them as a universal measure.
The hacks work for now, and it’s our responsibility as designers to do whatever we can to build accessibility into our sites. But the root problem is in one browser, and the browser maker also has a responsibility to build accessibility into the browser. Microsoft says they want to build a better browser, and we’ve seen them follow through somewhat by clearing up some of the most glaring rendering problems and deficiencies. But there’s a lot left to fix.
Incidentally Dan, I like your technique of using pixels for browsers that can handle them responsibly, and giving IE a relative font size so users can still resize the text. I just wish it didn’t have to come to maintaining two separate type scales, especially when the main benefit I get out of using pixels in the first place is simplicity.