Friday, 29 July 2011

Outlook 2010 - how to change fonts etc for readability and accessibility

This post is about how to change fonts and other settings to make the Outlook 2010 email window easier to read, if you have poor eyesight like me. In terms of accessibility, I consider it a step down down from Outlook 2003, but there y'go.

If you want Outlook 2010 to be easier to view and read, and want as much information as possible to be visible to you without having to scroll, the steps I had to take to set up Outlook 2010, below, may be of use to you.

(For anyone interested - I had to change to Outlook because Thunderbird kept freezing for ages everytime a new email arrived, and when version 5 still didn't fix it, I gave up on Thunderbird. I just can't function with the constant hanging. I've tried disabling reminders, visual and audio, it doesn't help. Yes Outlook stops too when I receive new emails, but only for a second, which I can live with.)


The default "Silver" theme is in my view the least bad of a bad selection - I found the other two choices to be even harder to read. Whoever thought that making the background grey, without giving users the option of a changing to a white background, was a good idea? I bet they had 20-20 vision and are 20 years old.

If you want to try the other 2 themes in case they work better for you:

  1. Go to menu File > Options (why they've reduced the size of the font for the Options menu entry, beats me - but it's there, just above Exit)

  2. Under General (it should be preselected but if not it's the top item in the list on the left), the option is "Color scheme" - the dropdown only offers 3 options, as mentioned.

    Again why isn't there a high visibility or accessibility-friendly theme, I don't know. Or even a "Windows Classic" which was great for visibility.

  3. Pick what you like, then OK it. There's no Preview so you have to just try the different ones out and see what's least bad for you personally.

Navigation Pane

To make the Navigation Pane (the one on the left) easier to read:

  1. Click once on the folder eg Inbox to select it

  2. Go to menu View > Navigation pane (in the Layout group)

  3. Click on the Navigation Pane button or the down arrow in its corner, then click Options

  4. Click the Font button

  5. Set it as you want, then OK and OK. I found Arial Black, Bold, 9 works best for me as a compromise between being able to read the text and the pane not taking up too much space, but experiment and see what works for you(there's no Preview option, you just have to OK everything to see the changes)

  6. While you're in Options, you might want to untick things in the "Display buttons in this order" list, so that the bottom left of the Navigation pane doesn't take up so much space - and move items up and down as you wish, too.

This just fixes the text for the list of folders - Inbox, Sent etc - on the extreme left.

Lists of emails

To make the font bigger for the lists of emails in the middle of the window, including column headings (From, To, Date) as well as the contents of the Subject line etc:

  1. While you're viewing your mail, eg Inbox still selected, again make sure you're in to the View menu view, then click the View Settings button

  2. In the popup box click the "Other Settings" button

  3. Here you can click Column Font, which is the font in the headings, then change the size (I made mine 10), and OK, and again click Row Font and increase the font size - this is the font for the email messages' subject line, From, etc

  4. In Other Settings I also chose to UNtick "Automatic Column Sizing" as I prefer to control it myself, dragging the column borders as I need

  5. In View Settings I also clicked the "Group By" button and UNticked "Automatically group according to arrangement" because I don't like the auto-grouping, the titles take up precious space and I can tell, yes all by my lil self, what day is Today or Yesterday, from looking at the Dates!

  6. The Columns button by the way lets you choose the column headings and change their order if you wish (except Flag status, which I'll come to)

  7. Now once you've set all the View Settings options as you wish, and OK'd everything and returned to the main view, at the left you should click the Change View button

  8. Then click "Apply Current View to Other Mail Folders", to save yourself having to repeat the font size increases and your other View Settings changes in every single folder of your email one by one!

    first tick the "Apply view to subfolders" at the bottom left as well as selecting the main folders, before you click OK, to save having to manually select all subfolders.

  9. (For me personally, I then clicked on Inbox, View menu and ticked "Show as Conversations" as I quite like the threaded view as in Gmail, as long as I have the option to turn it off when I need to - but I didn't want all emails in other folders to be threaded, just the Inbox, so I did this step only after I applied the current view to other folders.)

Incoming and outgoing emails

To change the font size here (where possible - it depends on the type of email, plain text is best for this):

  1. Go to menu File > Options

  2. Click on Mail, 2nd down in the list on the left

  3. Click the "Stationery and Fonts" button, then the "Personal Stationery" tab

  4. Click on the various Font buttons for different options (new emails, replies etc) and set the font size/type as you wish, and OK

  5. While you're in Mail options, you can also click the Signatures button (again outlined in red in the pic above) to set your auto-signature; you change its font etc there. Also if you set up a signature, you might want to select it in the dropdown on the right against "Replies/forwards", as otherwise Outlook will not add your signature when you reply or forward an email!

  6. Also in Mail options, as mentioned I prefer to compose messages in plain text or rich text (not HTML), and that can be set here too - in the dropdown towards the top of that box.

Reading pane

Doing the above seemed to sort out the fonts for the reading pane too, for me.

EDIT: I meant to add, you can also zoom what's shown in the reading pane by using the % -/+ Zoom slider at the bottom right of the general Outlook window. This works even with HTML emails.

Other space or time saving etc things

I also did these:

  1. Changed the unhelpful Outlook startup view so that Outlook 2010 starts up in my main email account's Inbox.

  2. Got rid of the (to me of no use) "People Pane" - menu View, click the People Pane button and tick against "Off".

  3. For better security, set received emails to be displayed in plain text only:
    1. Menu File > Options
    2. Click Trust Center, bottom left
    3. Click the Trust Center Settings button, bottom right
    4. Click E-mail Security in the list on the left
    5. Under "Read as Plain Text", tick "Read all standard mail in plain text", and OK everything
    6. If in future you want to read an email in pretty HTML because you trust the sender, just click on the Infobar (which is the horizontal, not at all bar-looking section, just under the email address of the sender, that says "This message was converted to plain text"), and click "Display as HTML".


Apart from the lack of readability of Outlook 2010 (and lack of a standard Windows theme), regarding the email element of Outlook I'm unhappy about:

  1. The impossibility of setting it so that it starts up with all IMAP folders and subfolders automatically expanded - I have to manually expand them each time

  2. Lack of Follow up flag or Tag options with IMAP email - if Thunderbird can do it… (there's this workaround which I've not tried yet)

  3. The impossibility of moving the Flag status column to the far left, which is where I've always had it in all my email clients - it's not so obvious on the right, for someone using a language where you read from left to right. (Yes, I tried changing the order of columns in View Settings, Columns - still on the right!)

I'll blog about the Outlook Calendar (which I use with Google Calendar) in another post.