Saturday, 19 May 2007

Click here, if this text is blue or purple!

Usability consultant and founder Kim Krause Berg points out usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s retraction of an earlier recommendation that for usability purposes hyperlinks should be shown in blue font with an underline for unvisited links and purple for visited.

Kim quotes Nielsen saying in an interview that links can essentially be any colour different from the surrounding text since people have become more experienced in browsing.

Like Kim I've had a personal preference for ignoring this rule with some limited exceptions. I've sometimes viewed the semi-formalised rule as a useful shortcut in arguing for a usable link identification scheme on a site. Also, sites serving markets where users have less experience, older computers or smaller bandwith may sometimes benefit from such a straightforward colour-coding.

The distribution of experience, equipment and bandwith among internet users varies greatly with different internet user demographics. For the sake of maximizing accessibility and improving user experience sometimes sticking to the very standard link identification scheme may be advisable - it may work very well for a site with a less proficient target group.

I showed a website to a friend who is a long-time internet user, a middle-aged proprietor in the hospitality industry. He mainly emails and only browses rarely. He told me the website did not work. When we checked the site together, it turned out he was unable to identify links which used green rather than blue colour.

In most circumstances I feel free to deviate from the now-revoked recommendation, keeping in mind its underlying motivation - that visitors need to be able to see where to click for your site to be a nice place and to accomplish its goals.

As far as other ‘rules’ or 'recommendations' for usability in the area of link identification that I would subscribe to, I would generally argue in favour of 1. consistency (across the site and even related sites), 2. simplicity (avoiding fancy mouseover/javascript weirdness) although I can think of a number of reasonable exceptions.

A proprietary link identification scheme is probably ok for sites working with experienced web users. On sites where you are a return visitor a proprietary link identification scheme may even make your experience more enjoyable, regardless of what colour the links are.