Are blue hyperlinks poorly designed? Here’s what the science says

In 2016, Google tried a surprising experiment on some users: it transformed all its search results links black instead of blue. The look did not stick; Google results are blue so far. But the test raised an interesting question that the web design community has been debating for years: are blue hyperlinks wrong? The latest research on the subject says no and challenges long-held beliefs about the use of color in typography.

According to a new PLOS A to study from scientists at the University of Southampton, blue hyperlinks are actually fine. By deploying eye trackers to study reading comprehension of all sorts of text colors, including those good old hyperlinks on Wikipedia pages, researchers found that colors ultimately don’t affect reading. In fact, any color is acceptable for understanding printed words; all that really matters is that the text is presented in high contrast to the background. “The main lesson we found here for web designers is that colored words have no negative impact on reading behavior,” the authors write.

It’s the latest in a recent series of studies that use the “new science of eye tracking” to understand how people see the world, shedding new light on old beliefs about app and website design. (and even the architecture).

The researchers conducted three separate tests with a few dozen native English speakers. Each test built on the findings of the last, with the goal of finding a breakpoint at which color affected reading speed or replay rate. The first experiment inserted a single word of different colors, such as green, red, and gray, into different sentences.

here is a Example of what I mean.

It found that people were less likely to skip reading a colored word across the board, “perhaps because the reader thought the color signaled that the word might be important in some way”, speculate writers. The only issues that occurred were when the word was light gray or green. In these cases, people fixate on the word longer than average. Why? Their reduced contrast makes them less readable. The color was good but the contrast, against its background, was not. This makes a lot of sense, because using proper contrast for text is a well-established practice in the world of graphic and interface design.

The second experiment upped the ante by placing multiple words of the same color in a sentence.

here is a Example of how it approach was different.

The results of this second experiment were largely the same because the first color did not distract the reader unless it was low contrast. However, the researchers found that when multiple words were given color treatment, readers were suddenly ready to ignore them again. In other words, readers started reading these words like any other, disregarding the extra stimulus.

The third and final experiment simulated an actual Wikipedia entry, and it used a sea of ​​actual blue hyperlinks, just like we see on Wikipedia. Again, readers seemed to parse all the content well. They paid no special attention to hyperlinks. . . except in one case. If a hyperlinked word was a less common “low-frequency” word — essentially a word that readers were more likely to misunderstand — readers would often re-read the section leading to the word, presumably trying to deduce its meaning. In such cases, readers were slowed down, but perhaps for the better – the hyperlinked word probably implied some importance, and since they didn’t know it, they re-read thinking they had better understand it.

All in all, the newspaper wants to put an end to a long-standing debate about deserved blue as the hyperlink color: “Therefore, efforts in web development to avoid using blue as the hyperlink color and instead using a different color may not have any positive influence for the reader reading the text, but instead making it harder for the reader to know what a hyperlink is when they expect it to conform to the convention that hyperlinks are denoted in blue.

In other words, feel free to use any hyperlink color you like. But make sure the contrast is high, know that it can draw more attention to the page, and know that blue is probably still the best.

Comments are closed.