Presenters, Please Use Bigger Fonts!

A decent chunk of the conference presentations that I see have unreadable content, because the fonts are too small. If designing UIs for TVs is “the ten-foot view”, designing presentation materials is “the hundred-foot view” (or perhaps “the thirty-meter view”). If your material cannot be read, it does not matter how “magic” your in-slide “moves” were.

My rules of thumb:

  • Bullets and other prose should be readable when viewed on a smartphone held at arm’s length

  • Code (in-slide, in-IDE, etc.) should be readable when viewed on a smartphone held at a more natural distance

For a live presentation, you do not necessarily know how big the screen will be and how far away the attendee might be sitting. If the event is being held at a hotel, for example, you might have fairly deep rooms with modest-sized screens, so people at the back have a much smaller effective screen than those at the front. Even if the event is being held in a dedicated conference space, the main projectors might be malfunctioning, so you might be stuck using some backup system that is not designed for the seating space.

Plus, nowadays, the live attendees represent the tip of your audience iceberg. Most presentations get posted online as videos on YouTube, Vimeo, etc., and many more people will watch those than will be in the event itself. People viewing those videos might well be viewing them on a smartphone. So, ensuring that your materials are readable on a smartphone has direct relevance.

Also bear in mind that videos might not be showing your presentation materials at full size. For example, they might be showing video of you alongside the materials, or have persistent event branding consuming some screen space.

For slides, it is easy enough to test ahead of time – just use your phone. For code being shown outside of slides, such as a live look at an IDE, jack up the font size and test it at the presentation venue to confirm that it is large enough for your circumstances.

But, one way or another, make sure your words are big enough to be read. Your presentation attendees and viewers will thank you for it.

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