How the Web Became Unreadable
Kevin Marks

Oh God, oh God, YES!

Books used to be typeset in black. But not anymore. What’s with green text? Word’s default font is now grey. As hardware engineers struggle dilligently to improve the contrast ratio of displays, fontographers and graphic designers piss away these improvement on artsy layouts with spidery fonts in various low-contrast colors. And don’t even get me started on weird colored backgrounds as popularized by Wired magazine.

  1. Not every reader has 20/20 vision. Colorblindness can make colored text stand out from colored backgrounds. People with low vision must sit close to the monitor, so that reading black text on a blazing white background is exactly like staring into a 100 Watt light bulb. Want to give these people a chance to look at your graphic design, try viewing it in inverse video mode.
  2. Not every reader has a thousand dollar monitor. In fact, the only people who do have thousand dollar monitors are graphic designers. Graphic designers need to view their beautiful output on a $99 display. And then they need to view it on a $99 smartphone with a low-res screen, before deciding they’ve conquered the design universe.
  3. Not every reader is in a room with subdued incandescent lighting. Before considering deploying a website with low contrast, try viewing it in direct sunlight (on that $99 smartphone).
  4. Color is not free. It costs four times as much to print in color on my household printer than it costs to print in black. Wondering why you’re always replacing color cartridges when you mostly print text? It’s colored fonts. Unlike today’s LCD displays, emerging display technologies like Organic LED (OLED) will penalize users for the energy cost of all the light the display emits. White-on-black will extend battery life, for which users will thank you.

There’s pretty, and there’s readable. Pretty is for ball gowns. Readable is for text. Because you don’t wear text out to one fancy dinner a year. You read text for hours every day.

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