Even the most talented graphic designers and web designers tend to be slaves to fashion. Seemingly unable to resist the latest design trends, they often follow them without thinking. They do that even when it makes their blogs and web sites difficult or uncomfortable to read.
The secret is that design courses teach them to look at the layout without reading the text or headings. That's a great strategy for checking the overall design, but if handled too far, it leads to unreadable pages – in print or on the web. They simply are not looking at how easy or hard it is to read the text, links, and subheadings.
Many people seem to assume that being flashy or fashionable is the heart of good design. But the real purpose of design, especially on the Internet, is readability.
Research on the Internet has shown that it is great content, not stylish design, that site visitors search for and act upon. Web sites, blogs, and other publications should be, first of all, easy to read.
Site visitors decide in just 5 to 8 seconds whether to read the content or leave the site. You must draw them into the content right way for the site to accomplish its purpose. That means the text must be easy to read.
Black Type on White Is Still the Best.
Roger Black, the designer of the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and other world-famous publications, found that if you want people to actually read what you write, the best color combination is black on white, with touches of red. Extensive (and expensive) research conducted for newspapers and magazines proves that he is correct.
That does not mean white type on a black background, either. Reversed type, as it is called, must be larger and bolder than black-on-white type to be easily read. Even then, it is harder to read than plain old black on white.
Gray Type Is Too Hard to Read.
Lately many web sites and blog designers are using gray type. Their employers or clients do not seem to realize how much that hurts readership. They have no idea how much business they are losing because of this unfortunate design fad.
Usually if you zoom in, you can puzzle it out, but why bother? Most readers will just move on to another site. With a billion web sites and blogs rivaling for readership, often millions of them covering the same topic, there's no need to strain your eyes on chic but badly designed sites.
Worse yet, many sites feature gray type on a colored background. Gray type on a colored background is often illegible.
Even business application forms that the site owner surely wants filled out accurately make that extremely difficult by featuring tiny gray type on a gray background. If people can not read what they are typing, they will make more mistakes. It's just common sense. More important, they may just decide to go apply somewhere else, where they can read the application.
Faddish Colors Are Boring and Hard to Read.
If gray type on white is hard to read, the new fad colors for links and headings are even worse. Orange or yellow-orange is the new designer favorite. Not only is it hard to read, but it's boring to see the same color subheadings on every site. How can that possibly be thought to demonstrate good design skills?
Next most popular are yellow green (coming up fast) and light blue. Some links and headings that I've seen in these design-fad colors are almost impossible to read.
How to Find out if Design Fads Are Costing You Money.
If visitors leave your site without reading it, you are losing potential clients and customers. If your site has some other purpose, you are losing out on that.
Take a close look at your site, especially if you use it for business, and make an honest assessment, no matter how pretty it may be:
Is the type gray instead of black? If so, you are losing potential readers in droves. People have to read constantly. Sites that make their eyes tired tend to be left behind.
Are the subheadings orange? Even if that is one of your company colors, it is still too hard read. Worse, it is now a hideous visual cliche. The message it sends is that whatever you have to say is boring, poorly thought out, and derivative, and that you do not care if it's hard to read. Is that really the message you want to send?
Are the subheadings light colors? Black is best if you want readership. Next best are very dark blue, very dark green, and so on, depending on the subject of the site. The truth is that the darker the color, the easier the type is to read.
If you have trouble persuading designers to give up gray text with light-colored subheadings (not to mention the dreaded light-colored type on dark background), insist on testing different versions of your site. See which one gets the best response from viewers.
Test objectively. Do not just ask people what they think. Find out what they do. Test two or more versions to see which combination causes site visitors to take the action that you want — whether that means reading more pages of your educational site or buying products or services that you sell on line.
Get Back to Design Basics.
Color is great if used wisely in large page headings and graphics, but for text, try to stick to black type on a white background. And for subheadings, keep the colors dark, subdued, and relevant to the topic of the site.
Colored backgrounds make text more difficult to read, even if you put a light color behind black type. A colored background behind colored type reduces readability.
The most successful sites are those that visitors actually read. Good design is good while in black in white or in color. That is, a good design will still look great in black and white. The purpose of design is to communicate, so colors should be chosen wisely to communicate first.
When in doubt, stick to basic black on white text, use medium-dark blue for links. Save other colors for headers, photos, graphics, and accents (used sparingly).