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How the Web Became Unreadable (2016) (wired.com)
182 points by rbanffy 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

I have a theory as to one of the leading causes of this blight - screens on Macbooks show text in a way that gives more contrast than screens on most devices. Other devices vary obviously, but Apple tends to be quite far at one end of the spectrum (to my eye).

Designers obviously love their Macs, and while using them produce a design that is at the borderline of what's ok on their screen and then is unusable on lots of others.

I have a big, bright, high contrast monitor and good eyesight (in theory the best case), but it's connected to a Windows PC and various websites render as hard to read. At least I'm savvy and so can use StyleBot to fix the worst offenders!

Every designer should be aware of the difference between what they see on their monitor and how their final product will appear.

In college, I helped design part of my student newspaper. Images that looked beautiful and had perfect contrast levels rarely survived the shitty printer that darkened everything.

It's weird to think about, but designers should never put all their trust in what's on their screen.

People on nice computers design only for other nice computers. This is why the best software comes from humble sources.

This is obvious when your Macbook'd up designers demo something on a crappy projector, without having tested it there first. Entire areas of the design just... disappear.

I thought Mac OS X had switched to using the same default Gamma setting as Windows quite some time ago.

Author is probably talking about screens

No, font rendering on OS X has traditionally been bit heavier than on Windows, and I think that is what OP was referring to.

Inside scoop from a creative director: Designers aren't toning down contrast to reduce eyestrain or to avoid black. It's an attempt (really a hack) to simplify a busy page / UI. They are telling you it's too much content on the screen at one time.

If you aren't empowered to trim the content, you can at least tone the type down in contrast & size to make it appear to be less. Every time I see subtle grey text on a marketing page, I can hear the designer thinking, "no one is really going to read this anyway."

Just like in speaking, my advice is to make your words bold but few.

One of the motivations I've heard bandied about is that reducing the contrast of content allows sites to increase the perceived contrast of calls to action without making them garish. If everything is grey on grey, the dark bold "Buy me now" button stands out.

(not a designer here) What is wrong with having lots of content on the screen? Isn't it better to not make users scroll or navigate to see the content they came for?

Do you think this may be related to the rise of javascript and heavy front end, client-side frameworks?

To be clear, this is something I'm mulling over, not a hard conclusion, but here it goes...

Creating a simple, server rendered, text based web site may be exactly what the users need, but from a developer's point of view, it can also be a career risk. A rapidly increasing percentage of development jobs out there now require experience with a front-end framework. As a result, developers need this experience, so they start adding front end frameworks in order to 1) gain that experience, and 2) document that experience in a real world project. Remember, a project isn't just a project, it's an audition for your next project. This is how tech recruiting works[1]. So developers may be adding new bells and whistles that are not only unnecessary[2], but actively harmful to their current project, largely because they are necessary to their resume, and it's actively harmful not to have them there.

In short, one of the reasons the web is becoming unreadable is that web developers can't create the resume they'll need for their next gig by using the best tech for their current one.

[1] I'm getting long in the tooth enough to have seen this a few times. Companies required "EJB", it wasn't enough to have experience with Tomcat and standard Java. Later, Spring, Struts, Hibernate, iBatis were required. These days, it's ember, react, and other rapidly evolving JS frameworks.

[2] I want to be clear that I think many of these frameworks are actually pretty excellent, for projects that need them. The problem is, if your current project doesn't, you still have a strong incentive to bring them in.

I feel like there's a deep-rooted tension and aggression in the web space that is caused by the evolution of the web to an application platform.

I think we are increasingly needing a stronger separation between functionality oriented applications that operate in the browser vs media-based content (documents/videos/images/articles).

The web has become an unnecessary-hostile platform for web applications because you are standing on a thin layer of glass the whole time because you have to juggle so many combinations of environments and browsers and capabilities and devices and screen sizes and internet speeds and everything in between.

For example there's an insane amount of baggage involved today in deploying a decent production web application in terms of bundling the assets caching vendor prefixing feature detection and so on..

So much of that could go away if we had a more application-focused platform on the web.

So someone could say you want a web-based customer service desk application? Here install this 30MB bundle once and let us focus on everything else. It's not a big ask.

Instead we have a mindfuck of "minifying" "vendor prefixing" "css autopefix" "css sprite" "code splitting" "tree shaking" "___ javascript library that is only 4 kilo bytes!" "hash based cache busting strategy" "feature detection" and so on.

It just adds unnecessary complexity and baggage.

As a long-time web dev I'd like to see the web platform for applications evolve into a more friendly and predictable environment for the developers more similar to the mobile app platform.

"Here install this 30MB bundle once and let us focus on everything else. It's not a big ask."

That was basically Java applets, and then later JNLP and Flash.

It turns out it is a big ask. Users really don't want to install software, and their attention span is literally about two seconds. Javascript + DOM "won" over Java applets for two main reasons: you could access the whole browser window, and you could display something on the screen immediately without needing to load your whole application's functionality.

We didn't like JS back in 2002 either - the Java ecosystem was much more mature and easier to program with. But we put up with it because users expressed a very clear preference for DHTML apps over Java applets, and money follows users, and devs follow the money.

All the tree-shaking, code-splitting, minifying, etc. is there to preserve this "loads quickly" property as JS apps have gotten more complex. A lot of sites do it poorly, but think of those sites as prey for an enterprising startup willing to put the extra effort into snappiness.

I get it. My general point is that there's an imbalance between the method of application delivery and the importance of the application (or the frequency of use).

The method that we have makes sense for frequent hopping between different documents on different sites and spending some minutes on each. As was the case with the original "web of linked documents".

But now there's undue baggage and pressure and complexity imposed on application developers because on one hand they are developing sophisticated applications that people use daily for many hours.

On the other hand they have to worry about the most trivial things like if some library of bundle file is 200KB or 1MB.

Or worry if javascript is even enabled or not, if whatever CSS feature like flexbox or grids or whatever is supported or not.

A trivial thing turns into something complicated because you need fallbacks and polyfills and fallback for your fallback and you know the rest. It hurts the developers but also the users because time and effort that could be spent on the product is spent on this kind of stuff.

That's why I think the separation of content and application is becoming more important.

If you want snappy media that is not bloated and responsive and readable and open and all that fine.

But if you want a full-blown CRM or spreadsheet or customer support desk software and the like that you spend your day on let's give the developers a break and give them a predictable environment with a robust method of application delivery, without bean counting the bytes, and empower them to focus on the real problem that they are trying to solve for you.

Except it's not a big ask is it? Users routinely download 10-100meg apps on their phones and tablets and update them constantly.

Should desktop/laptops be the same? Is it only because desktops/laptops started long before the internet was fast enough to support that apps that they don't run like phones/tablets?

I don't want a locked down desktop/laptop. I'm only pointing that that more people than own desktop/laptops are constantly downloading and installing 30M bundles

A big problem in the mobile app ecosystem is that users don't routinely download 10-100meg apps. Most users have 6-12 apps they've already downloaded and use routinely and then say "Eh, no thanks" to more. This is why it's so hard to break into the App Store as an indie developer.

I can think of at least two instances in the last week where I've had a desire for the functionality offered by a big-name product (Groupon and Zillow), went to their mobile website, was confronted with a nearly-nonfunctional mess and a prompt to download their app, and then said, "Eh, I don't care enough to bother and wait for it to download."

The discussion on this thread is confirming the top poster's point, that much of what web developers do is user hostile. People here are aguing that ordinary users don't want to promiscuously use lots of apps downloaded off the internet. Then they call this mindset a "problem" and argue that therefore we need JavaScript to trick them into doing it without noticing.

In so far as your web app really is something that should be a full scale app (google maps being the classic example) this is a great trick. But as an industry, we have incentive to shove complex apps down people's throats when the use case requires plain-old-media with just a bit of dynamic stuff for navigation and forms.

Also because when you have an 8GB phone, there are only so many 50-500mb apps you can install, given the space already taken up by personal files and compulsory Android apps.

I prefer web apps because when I go to a bar and want to order from my table, or want to see the schedule for a conference I'm attending, I don't want to go to the trouble of installing a new app for something I'm only going to use once. This used to be a lot worse when apps asked for a load of permissions upfront which it wouldn't be sensible to grant, but these apps still often take up around 100mb in storage, which can mean having to find something to uninstall if you have limited space.

> Users routinely download 10-100meg apps on their phones and tablets and update them constantly.

That's a pretty horrid mischaracterization. Users may download and install apps that are tens of megabytes per bundle, but at least the downloaded blob is then entirely local. The apps don't redownload themselves on every startup.

Let's compare that to a bloated megalith webpage with framework machinery, a dozen trackers and $deity knows what else. "ETag has changed, please wait while we drip feed you this >20MB JS+CSS gob. Oh, and btw - you can't see the page text at all until the download has been processed."


> So much of that could go away if we had a more application-focused platform on the web.

We already have that platform, the desktop. Sure the distribution side of things could be improved, but there is nothing wrong with the platform.

There is one issue with desktop applications: user has to _trust_ the developer of application he's going to install. Because an application get access to everything in the user directory. I'm under impression this is the major reason for web apps becoming popular on desktop: most of the time, running software in browser is totally safe for user, unlike running native applications.

The article deals with text readability and typography, not with an over reliance on JavaScript front-end frameworks to render « simple » text.

That's absolutely true. However, my question is whether part of the decline of text readability is due to a resume building need to involve technologies that don't have much to do with basic text.

Here's the thing - people don't like to bring in a more complex technology simply to do exactly the same thing as they could do with a simpler one. They need to justify its presence in there somehow.

For instance, supposed you decided to re-implement hacker news with a client heavy javascript framework. Would you leave it looking exactly the same as before? Almost certainly not, you'd start using that javascript stuff, and (in my opinion), the end result would no longer be the simple, easy to read, text based website that it currently is.

That's the connection I'm getting at here (and once again, it's something I'm mulling over, not a hard conclusion I've reached).

I think you're conflating design and engineering.

It's rarely the case that you change design because you selected a new technology; rather you usually select a new technology to enable changes in design.

If I switched from React to Vue for a Hacker News viewer I'm not also going to change the design of the project just because. But if I wanted a dashboard to become dynamic and allow for smoother user experiences without a full page refresh each time chances are I'm going to introduce JavaScript to a page that was previously just HTML and CSS.

Nah, the core problem on is the misuse of opacity, too many shades of one color (such as the light gray in the article) instead of relying on weight variation, dividers, italics, etc.

Take this block of text in the article:

"I thought my eyesight was beginning to go. It turns out, I’m suffering from design."

Instead of leaving it a legible black and have the divider + italics convey the separation from the article...

They went with rgba(0,0,0,0.5) on a font that is hard to read on a white background with that shade of a gray. Try removing those sort of CSS rules from the Wired Article and you'll find it much more legible.

They repeat this sin whenever they quote someone such as:

A color is a color isn’t a color… …not to computers…and not to the human eye.

They also put a ton of whitespace around the quote which is already enough to separate it. The absurdly annoying light gray is annoying and not required.

I would agree that what you state are factors, but I would disagree that they are the main factors.

One thing I notice in my work (in product management) is that people naturally gravitate towards shiny things. So we design things to be shiny in order to attract those people.

At various points, a specific aesthetic gains popularity because, for well-founded reasons, it increases usability and readability. Then everyone starts to imitate it, partly because it works, but also partly because people are drawn to it. Then frameworks are created to enable teams to rapidly replicate the style.

At a certain point, the frameworks are good enough to just replicate the style in basic settings with little input needed from someone who is actually thinking really hard about the design. In many ways that's a good thing because it lowers the barrier to entry. It's much easier to make things because the framework drastically reduces the amount of wheel reinventing you'd need to do. But you end up with designs where nobody really thought that hard about it - and so you end up proliferating potentially bad defaults encoded in the frameworks.

I'm personally much more willing to believe that the decline in overall design quality is due to negligence from convenience.

In my work, I have noticed that users are reluctant to move towards shiny things, and it is the developers of the shiny things and some manegers who gravitate. The rest of us get pushed.

Exactly, in web design almost no one actually thinks about the user, it's all about impressing each other with shiny things, rather than well thought out user experience.

Content producers shouldn't need more than a static site generator and a theme backed by a good custom frontend for inserting new content

The web as a publishing platform shouldn't need React or 2MB of js libraries

Web apps are a different story but have also different requirements

I've been mostly a web developer for the past 20 years and I can't understand why there isn't a good solution yet

Look at 4chan or Craigslist

They're highly successful and they serve pure static (ugly) html

There are also many sites that are highly successful and use 2MB of javascript. I'm not sure what this proves, except that when an app is useful users won't be put off by the technology or even user experience.

I think geebee's point is that the two trends go together chronologically; is there a causal relationship, or is it a spurious correlation?

Ok, many developers, especially at the beginning of their careers, do like to introduce new things into the projects when they believe those things could advance their careers or even simply sound cool to talk to the peers about. But this is not the reason for the unreadable web.

I think the reason is simpler, more like fashion: most people who are in a position to play with fonts and colors have absolutely no idea what they are doing and make decisions by copying somebody else who they perceive as cool, and there is always pressure to make it look cool, so it spreads.

Although this isn't directly related to the article, I can't upvote this enough.

To be clear, the article is almost solely about contrast between text and background colors, not JS heavy frontends. But I think what you've stated is very true and is also my opinion about the current state of web frontend.

Like another user said here, the contrast is a result of designers working with a page with too much content, and trying to reduce the feeling of content overwhelm. I don't think heavy JS frontend is directly related to that. But what you've said should not be discounted.


"My plea to designers and software engineers: Ignore the fads and go back to the typographic principles of print — keep your type black, and vary weight and font instead of grayness. You’ll be making things better for people who read on smaller, dimmer screens, even if their eyes aren’t aging like mine. It may not be trendy, but it’s time to consider who is being left out by the web’s aesthetic."

A plea like, "it’s time to consider who is being left out by the web’s aesthetic," is likely sending the wrong message. Some designers are going to interpret that as a plea to make websites accessible at the cost of aesthetics, and solidify their own stance. It would probably be better to present how accessible designs can improve their designs.

> Some designers are going to interpret that as a plea to make websites accessible at the cost of aesthetics, and solidify their own stance.

Is that such a terrible thing? HN seems to me highly accessible and not terribly aesthetically tuned, and it's one of my favourite sites to visit, purely from a navigational viewpoint.

> Ignore the fads and go back to the typographic principles of print

IMO ever since we were rescued from the old-school print designers & design-challenged developers of the Early Web (up to ~2005-07) by the new wave of digital-first designers, web design's done nothing but get worse.

Most web designers are not designers. They're just "artists".

They don't care about the usability of their creation, they only want something which looks good for their portfolio.

I'm still trying to understand where these fads came from in the first place.

There's a strong economic incentive in business to distinguish oneself from one's competitors by any means necessary because (whisper it) capitalism is a zero-sum game.

Have you ever noticed in science-fiction and other speculative genres, computer systems almost invariably have clean consistent user interfaces. That's what consumers want - relatively simple UIs that work the same for all the content they deal with. that's why things like Bloomberg Terminal are popular, that's why people fall in love with the UIs in videogames.

What retailers and other businesses want is to be different and stand out from their competitors. Since the costs of entry to the web are much lower than those for print (billboards or magazine publication) there is correspondingly more visual clutter. But this isn't a new thing with the web, it's been around as long as there have been magazines. I suffer from severe ADHD; I tend to avoid large racks of magazines in stores because looking at all that imagery and typography at once is very similar to being screamed at by a crowd of people.

This does not mean I hate all graphic design and typography, far from it. But where we went wrong (imho) is that the web became about making every page distinctive instead of concentrating on hypertext and letting people customize it at the client end. Facebook beat MySpace because FB is consistent and graphics are subordinate to the white-and-blue color scheme. Wikipedia succeeds in larger part because it's visually consistent. GeoCities is a graveyard because it wasn't.

The basic problem is that absent other incentives money typically flows towards novelty. But competition alone rarely yields optimal results; rather it tends towards a lower common denominator.

I strongly agree. This is precisely why I love fictional UIs in sci-fi movies and videogames. This is also why I find it natural to use Emacs as my proxy operating system - because there everything is functional and consistent. And it's also why I prefer native UIs to web UIs - because again, there's a deeper system-wide consistency in native UIs.

To your analysis I'd add: companies, because of business pressures, mostly try to milk you instead of helping you. I sometimes call it "extracting value from users" instead of "delivering value to users". The consequence of that is, they want to control as much of the interaction with you as they possibly can. On the web, it means they want to control the rendering phase. As a user, this is precisely what I don't want them to do. I want their data, not their presentation decisions. This conflict is pretty visible where it comes to ad blockers and reader modes, and also one of the big reasons people resort to scrapping websites. In a perfect world where companies cared about delivering value to users, scrapping would not be necessary.

> Facebook beat MySpace because FB is consistent and graphics are subordinate to the white-and-blue color scheme. Wikipedia succeeds in larger part because it's visually consistent. GeoCities is a graveyard because it wasn't.

I'm not a UX person by any margin, but I thought about what you said and I... agree. I wonder if there are any UX studies done on whether customers prefer consistency in UX or not.

Because it looks clean -- and people approving the designs aren't looking at it from a functional perspective. They aren't using the design, they're looking at it statically.

I think there are three things going on.

1. The belief that very high contrast black one white contributes to eye strain for some people. I think this one is reasonable - read the literature on how I help dyslexics and this tends to come up. I tend to use a very dark grey instead of black - about 90%

2. A desire to create visual heirarchy without end up with a horrific fruit salad... visual hierarchies are important in text. You can create them by altering font, size, style or colour. Ideally you should be able to create the heirarchy subtly - so the reader understands what is important, but while keeping the site looking clean and sophisticated (see point 3). Changing the greyness of text is one more tool in the box - and where heirarchirs are complex designers can find themselves hunting for tools

3. Minimalist fashion. No one wants their page to look old fashioned. No one wants to establish a visual hierarchy that looks like a Geocities page.

So the temptation is to keep colours muted, to keep style and font changes to the minimum. Using shades of grey to provide almost subliminal cues sounds cool.

I remember reading somewhere that one reason is that low-contrast text looks better in design mockups where people don't typically try and actually read the lorem ipsum. It allows graphic designers to get their design to stand out more when there isn't high-contrast text drawing attention away from the design.

Wired Magazine.

I, too, thought that was ironic.

People keep asking why Firefox is losing market share to Chrome and how to reverse it.

The answer to the first question is simple: it doesn't do anything Chrome doesn't, so there's no particular reason to use it unless you care about maintaining competition among browsers.

The answer to the second question is also simple: start acting in the interest of the user! Get rid of the annoying sticky headers. Increase the contrast when it's too low. Increase the font size when it's too small. Word wrap when stuff is going to go off the edge of the page. Narrow the display width when text is too wide.

Yes, I know you can do all of the above with various tools. I've started using the kill-sticky tool in Chrome. But that's not as good as having the browser do it proactively for you. There's a lot of low-hanging fruit there that would be vastly easier then trying to crank another zillionth of a percent out of JavaScript benchmarks. All it takes is the will to do it.

I think that Firefox lost most of that market share mainly because Google is pushing chrome really hard on Google Search... They ask you to install it at every corner. But if they would care about privacy, they would still avoid it.

Firefox ships with reader view, sounds like it does pretty much what you want.

Reader view is a good start but it needs to be extended. As a user I want to be able to turn it on universally and opt out for certain sites, or at least make it the default on some sites.

When I rebuilt my blog (http://flukus.github.io/) I tried to build it with reader mode in mind but it's hard, there are some hidden heuristics to trigger it's availability, you need a paragraph with at least 67 characters or something like that. So the articles work in reader mode, but the index doesn't. It doesn't work at all on file:// paths, so not great for proof reading.

As a developer I'd love to be able to put a meta tag in the page to always turn it on. There are a million other ways they could improve it too. I hope this is the future of the web.

So it does! Trying it now, don't yet know how comprehensive it is, but it seems to work well on a Medium post, at least. Thanks!

Now, how to increase awareness of that feature?

There was a campaign when it was new feature that showed a popup hilighting the feature after update, like this:


Considering that reader view has it's own dedicated button and all, I'm not sure how it possibly could be made more promenient without being annoying. The popup already was bit on the edge of being annoying.

It's a cool idea! It could be a community-styled web experience, with the best user-style automatically applied and a button to easily return to plain mode. The "value" of an user-style could be treated as a multi-armed bandit problem, minimizing the number of return to plain mode.

This seems like it would go directly against Mozilla's goal of adhering to web standards.

Then perhaps they need to choose between their goal of adhering to the letter of web standards and their goal of having anyone use their browser. To be more exact, they need to understand that this is the choice they are making, whether they realize it or not.

But if they do it in a controlled manner, they will be actually helping millions of people have a better experience on the web.

Can't tell if this piece is genuine or not; ads taking up most of the space on the screen to the left and right; ads every 5 paragraphs; a video ad; constant moving of the article text as ads load.. ads popping in and out as I scroll... at least it's a great showcase of an unreadable article.

It looks very neat for me, but I have scripts disabled and run an adblocker. Javascript makes the experience worse on almost every site.

Surely we can acknowledge that JS is not the cause, just as HTTP is not the real cause of all those ads you see.

The problem is shortsighted business and design decisions that have prioritized squeezing every last fraction of a penny out of the page, borrowing against the user's perception of the site. In the long run, that debt is going to come due and the user is going to stop coming back to your site from lack of cost/benefit.

Well yes, JS is not the cause, but it's the tool that enables websites to invade their users privacy, eat their battery, and blink and slide and splash-screen ads from every angle. Before JS became so well suited for that task Flash was the main culprit. The web was better without a Flash plugin (and it still is).

Used "correctly" the web with JS is way better than the web without. There's plenty of sites that use JS great from actual apps to articles and tutorials with interactive examples. In fact personally I find myself disappointed when I see an article that would clearly be better with interactive diagrams but the authors are stuck thinking the web it just a transmitted book and not it's own medium but better strengths.

A couple of examples where IMO JS makes the page superior to one without




If you acknowledge that javascript is not the problem (as it is just an implementation detail), then I'm curious if you still agree with your comment above that is complaining about javascript?

I just have an adblocker. Don't know how much better it looks for you, but this one looks great over here and I don't get to be the guy in every other HN post complaining a site doesn't work with JS disabled.

It doesn't seem to me that JS by itself is the issue here.

I just have JS disabled (whitelisting sites I do use) and the article displays cleanly and with no ads.

It's not like JavaScript is some virus or moral hazard. It's a tool, to be used when it's helpful, and discarded when it hinders.

Like everything, the ability to execute JavaScript is a tool I use to get what I want.

And laughably the grey quote text that is intertwined throughout the article which is as illegible as the contrast that the author suggests of other applications.

> And laughably the grey quote text that is intertwined throughout the article which is as illegible as the contrast that the author suggests of other applications.

I'm glad I wasn't the only one bothered by that, especially after the author has just complained about reduced-contrast offset boxes.

For me it's well organized, as a single column of text breaking for occasional graphics. I saw no popup ads or modal screens at all. Standard mobile Safari here... maybe this illustrates the growing divide between desktop and mobile web design?

Yes, that's part of it. On desktop with ad blocker on, there is an awful lot of white space: http://imgur.com/jQV5fqy

There is less whitespace if you turn ad blocker off -- it turns out one of the things uBlock Origin is blocking is a social media widget on the left hand side. http://imgur.com/ip093TX

However, that ad in the middle of that screenshot pops in and out of what you are reading as was described by the OP. It's very annoying.

With adblocker on the whitespace is not optimal, but at least the user experience is not terrible.

The whitespace, while bit excessive, is still pretty okay. Afterall, narrow columns are typically quite readable.

Not really the author's fault that Wired applies a terrible stylesheet to their work.

For those complaining about the appearance of the article: it looks like the original link [1] now redirects to the wired.com version but used to redirect to medium.com [2], at least that's what happens when I enter it into archive.org. Also, previous discussion [3].

1. https://backchannel.com/how-the-web-became-unreadable-a781dd...

2. https://web.archive.org/web/20161019173808/https://backchann...

3. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12743628

Brightness contrast is important, but so is color contrast. As readers of early WiReD magazine (ca. 1998) well know, reading orange text on a yellow background is just as painful as light gray on medium gray.

The same goes for font size. Due to the range of device sizes and display dot densities, small fonts can easily become unreadable. Mobile versions of web sites helps only so much. I find at least half of Apple's system menus to be unreadably small on my iMac 5K monitor and my Macbook retina. This illegibility needs to be user-fixable in a systematic way, and ASAP. Just telling the user, "Use an Accessibility service", is NOT the right response.

The first thing that appeared upon clicking the link, for me, was a full-screen overlay ad asking me to subscribe to Backchannel. Unreadable indeed.

Maybe it's a case of self-describing expression. The form of the expression follows the point it's trying to make. Like when you try to explain the concept of redundancy by saying that it means repeating the same thing needlessly or by making several statements that mean the same thing. Or when you describe something by using words that sound like that thing. I'm sure it has proper name.

Unless they practice what they preach, anything from Wired (or any modern bloated "news" site for that matter) whining about this can be discarded. I don't even know why they publish this hypocritical crap.

The article itself at least has very legible high-contrast font. So I'd say they practice what they preach in this case.

And the links look different than the non hyperlink text. Sure,they look like highlighted text, and some people might not like that (I do), but at least they look different! Many sites nowadays make you guess where the links are.

> Text that was once crisp and dark was suddenly lightened to a pallid gray.

Then the author puts quoted highlights in a pallid gray through the article. I guess this could be intentionally ironic but I sorta doubt it.

To be fair I'm not sure the author is in control of this.

"changed its text from legible to illegible. Text that was once crisp and dark was suddenly lightened to a pallid gray." - and Wired published it in... grey!

Are you talking about the quotes the article did? I think the contrast issue was a jab at how other websites use illegible colors.

(#7F7F8F on white = contrast of 3.9)


    color: #000;

You're right - they got to the equalent of grey by using an unreadably thin font. There's always another way to screw up if you're devoted to finding it, I guess. At least they chose serif, though.

I never want to go back to standard web usage after getting used to this plugin: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/dark-backgrou...

I love that, nice strong contrast. Turn down the display brightness if that's too strong…

The irony of this article is incredible

One thing that should go away from web and desktop software is the association with paper. Once we get rid of that damn white background on by default we can use softer foreground colors.

Just take a look at this screen capture (not mine, found in 2 minutes search): https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Cq983WOS58E/VyYjnISP_II/AAAAAAAAF...

It may not look 2017, or even 2005, but who effing cares! I could stand in front of it for hours, as I do with my dark desktop, while anything resembling a white page hurts my eyes. I'm aware that printing could be a valid argument against (dark background==huge toner/ink waste), so when printing make the theme change on the fly in a way that colors being too close in their component values won't be used as FG versus BG or highlighted FG versus FG.

Why not add a11y testing to your company's test suite? Tools already exist for automated testing of things like color contrast and WAI-ARIA elements.

If your company supported basic a11y then you would have an argument to use against designers that like low contrast text. It might also be a chance to educate them on WAI standards if they don't use them for their work yet.

Just like fashion, good designs will keep coming back, so in a few years the readability will be important again. The exec's at Google probably wanted the site to get a more modern look, and it does look more modern and nicer, but the old design had a more "robust" feel. I wonder if you buy Googe IaaS, are you looking for robustness or modernity ?

Modernity changes, and this article is part of a movement to change it. With luck soon modernity will involve text that is a different colour from the background.

This article doesn't even render in a readable form for me on iOS chrome. Great job, Wired! Way to illustrate your point. :P

Just in case:


Maybe a bit "extreme", an "artistic site" has all the rights in the world (+1) to be "artistic", but maybe it has been a tadbit overdone.

I expected this article to be about the ad density on modern news websites. Considering the article itself is upwards of 50% ads, I guess it's not but I'm not willing to stay around long enough to find out.

Wired'd print magazine is easily the least-readable mag on the planet.

Among other poor style choices, they abandoned text borders some years back - text blocks are within tiny fractions of character width from high-contrast (often just black) page features.

I guess it's what they call "edgy", literally. So hard to read!

But I may be the last remaining subscriber anyway.

Given the comments, it seems like most readers don't see the entire article as a single vertical column of characters.

Same here. Given the title, I spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out the joke.

Well wired are in a unique position to answer this question given I haven't been able to read their articles for sometime and instead get a message "Here's the thing about ad-blockers"

I don't use an ad-blocker.

The quality of their journalism usually isn't much better. Was it this time?

That "Contrast Rebellion" is no such thing. It uses the same low contrast text it complains about. Sure, worse examples exist, but that's no excuse to deliberately use gray text (#191919). The correct color is #000000, which is the closest to high quality printing on paper.

Advice for beginning painters, who might otherwise be inclined to overuse black, has no relevance to typography. Printer toner is made from carbon black, which is as close to pure black as you're going to get without very exotic materials.

The title isn't "don't overuse black," it's "never use black." Black is an unappealing colour to look at.

Artists use pure black all the time. "Never use black" is something said to beginners because never using it is better than using it excessively. It's like saying "never use passive voice" to a beginning writer. Black is appealing if used correctly, and because all commonly used printing and display technologies have lower dynamic range than typical real-life scenes, careful use of pure black and pure white is essential if you want an appearance of realism.

And typography is a completely different subject to painting. People have aimed for darker blacks from the very beginning of ink technology. Even now, people put up with the hassle of dip pens instead of fountain pens because they allow for darker black inks. Extremely high contrast is considered a mark of quality in printing, so why should it be any different on screen?

This article is published on a website that uses the blurry mess that is Exchange. At least it's black.

I like this line "So, as a physicist by training, I started looking for something measurable."

The article has nearly half the screen real-estate taken up by a social media "Share" bar, a "Most Popular stories bar and a top nav bar. Jammed between these is actual content.

The web has become unreadable indeed Wired, I'm not sure if contrast ratios and typography are the first things that come to most people's minds however.

I don't know, I think much of the web is much more readable now than ever personally.

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