OS X and Fonts: Apple’s Illogical Settings

Last year, I discussed how to make fonts bigger in OS X in a Macworld article. While many of these techniques work, they’re not good enough for people who don’t have 20:20 eyesight.

I continue to be amazed at some of Apple’s settings, or lack thereof. Two of them in particular surprise me.

The first is in Mail, which, arguably, has a wide range of font and size settings. But there’s one place where you can’t change the font or size, and that’s in the message list, if you’re not using the “classic” layout. In the three-column layout, the message list has tiny fonts, and the logic of having the sender’s name in bold – rather than the subject of the emails – escapes me. I’m more likely to want to read what someone says than who says it; the bold text on the senders’ names distracts from reading subject lines, which display in a thin, tiny font.

And, there’s a setting to Display unread messages with bold font, which has no effect on unread – or read – messages, at least in this view. This only applies in classic layout, where the messages appear in a list at the top of the window. Because of this, it should be dimmed if you haven’t checked the classic layout option.

The second setting that surprises me is confusing, and has been so for a long time. If you want to change the size of the sidebar in Mail, to make the names of your mailboxes larger, do you know where to go? What if you want to change the size of the fonts in the Finder sidebar? Or iTunes? Or iPhoto? To change all of them, you go to the General preferences and click on the Sidebar icon size menu.


This is illogical, and most users never find this setting. You expect to find all settings for an application in that application’s preferences, and this is one of the most confusing settings that Apple has in OS X. In addition, I may want my mailboxes in a small font and my Finder sidebar in a larger font. I don’t see why I have to apply the same setting to several apps.

Apple needs to do more to allow users to adjust their fonts and sizes. Young developers who don’t wear glasses need to be made to understand that other people see the world differently. There are millions of Mac users who would benefit from more font options.