A Touch of Class

f. rainne

Big and Small

In HTML, <big> and <small> were designed as presentational elements, and for the most part, that's how they are used--to alter font size. It's better to use semantic elements such as headers, emphasis, and classes, combined with style sheets for stylistic control. Therefore, using <big> and <small> is discouraged. But what should I do if I want something to really be big? I don't want it stressed or emphasized, I want it Big! *throws hands apart in the gesture that originated *. They're not the same -- if you've ever played in an orchestra you know what I mean. When the conductor says "Make it big!" s/he doesn't mean "Put some emphasis on it." >This< *jabs air* is emphasis. It's not big. Forte is big. This is sharp. It's like the little v-shaped 'hat' accent. –This– *moves tensed hands slightly forward and out* is stress. It's not big. It's pushed in and stretched full, like the horizontal-angle accent.

My argument isn't completely irrelevant, btw. I'm thinking of how one should mark up something like the two phrases at the end of http://www.mozilla.org/docs/refList/i18n/. (Read it. It's interesting.) Of course I could assign an ID to each of them and associate "big" CSS with them that way, but that's little better than using a style attribute. They're not specially styled because they're "one-codebase" and "another-language". They're not styled because they're "catchy-phrase"s. They're styled large and blue because the author wanted them "big". (There! Notice the color; it's not just a font size change.) The bigness makes a difference. Compare

The End.


The End.

It has a different, and not entirely media dependent, effect.

Probably the best one could do is <strong class="big">, since "strong" comes close, even though "emphasis" doesn't cut it. (This won't work for <small>, though.)

Why do I insist on size, which technically is physical, rather than accent or importance? Size has a different connotation, as I've pointed out above. Those phrases are not meant to stand up and shout for your attention like the self-important warning at the top of http://www.mozilla.org/bugs/ (which should be marked up as "important"). They're a loud and forceful and memorable conclusion to the text. If I styled them in italics or otherwise simply <em>phasized them they wouldn't be so loud. They'd just be a few dinky phrases at the end of an essay, and I wouldn't have remembered them for months and months.

So, what's an excuse for <small>?

I wish you'd update more often.. Even though I never update myself. *hides*

It's actually a pattern I encounter more often than "big". The pattern, I said, not the text! *runs away*

1.2.1 Read the text before designing it.

The typographer's one essential task is to interpret and communicate the text. It's tone, its tempo, its logical structure, its physical size, all determine the possibilities of its typographic form. The typographer is to the text as the theatrical director to the script, or the musician to the score.

Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style