Sat, May 31, 2003

Why should links go missing?

<rant>I hate the magic wand link effect that became popular after IE introduced hover. Web designers took to making links invisible unless you waved your magic wand over them. Not only did this make links difficult to find, but startled users with the unexpected appearance of color or underlines. This was especially frustrating to those who had link underlining turned off and liked it off.

Now Mozilla users get to suffer through it again and worse than before. In “The Search for the Missing Link” Stuart Robertson takes the idea to a whole new level and describes how to make whole paragraphs blink for your magic wand. The sad thing is he’s trying to be helpful to users. He writes:

“With thoughtful use of colour and typography, links can be made less of a visual disruption, creating pages that are more aesthetically pleasing and text that is easier to read.

“However, if the style of a page’s links is too close to that of the text on the rest of the page, it can be difficult for users to see the links at all. In particular, users who have poor eyesight or are colour blind might have trouble finding the links on an otherwise well designed page.”

Underlining is extremely jarring from a typographic standpoint, so I understand the desire to eliminate it. Still, the web is all about links and for many users, unfortunately, underlining is the indication of a link. Intentionally making links “subtle and unobtrusive” means that many users won’t notice them at all, even with the hover effect, because they won’t think to try it.

I’ve already noticed a few in the Mozilla community—Asa, for one—playing with this effect in weblogs. If any style of writing is about links, it’s blogs. I don’t see a good reason to make links almost invisible. While it might make the text more readable, it makes it less usable. Linuxart jumps all the way to hiding content—the time of a post and the link to add comments—unless you mouse over the text. This prevents keyboard use because the content isn’t even there. So much for this helping accessiblity.

For quite a while now I’ve been thinking about how much more usable the web would be if there were consistent link colors and styles. I’ve thought about creating a user stylesheet that forces all non-visited links to blue. I can’t quite bring myself to do it because every once in a while I come across a beautifully designed site that uses uncommon colors, but is still quite usable. They’re rare, but I don’t want to miss them. Perhaps I need to create a Mozilla “manager” for always using my link colors and styles on specified sites.</rant>

I feel somewhat better now.

I may have to learn Python…     Encoding and escaping unicode characters