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Author mentions this took a long time to arrive at.

I recommend "Web Design in 4 Minutes" from the CSS guru behind Bulma:


Disclaimer: I am not a graphic designer. I am merely a programmer with an interest in well-crafted, understandable, and readable text. So, read this as an outsider rant rather than an informed opinion.

  Black text on a white background can be harsh on the eyes.
I have to disagree about the problem here. Black text has been fine since the first printing press. And if you do want to make a page less in-your-face with regards to contrast, then it would be much better to dim the background. After all, the paper we read is mostly this grey-ish, yellow-ish colour.

  The accent color can be complemented with more subtle shades, to be used on
  borders, backgrounds, or even the body text.
The colours they've used in the syntax highlighting just made everything a confetti explosion. I am not against syntax highlighting, but it shouldn't be this colourful, unless you give every identifier a computable colour to make misprints more noticeable.

  Since text is the main content of a webpage, using a custom font gives the
  page even more noticeable identity.
Not a big fan of @font-face. Another host to visit. Another asset to download. My fonts are fine. If I have the font you like, then great! If I don't, please make it look reasonable with system defaults.

  Let's enhance our header with a nice background image from Unsplash.
Let's not. Massive headers are nothing but a waste of space.

Again, this is a rant. I am just very tired of “designers” doing “pretty” stuff instead of solving a problem. And that problem is an aesthetically pleasing, not-eye-hurting, reasonably dense text.

You may be wrong or may be right, but all I can say that after looking at the demo the text became significantly more difficult to read after the CSS coloring was applied to it.

Unlike you I do have a lot of experience in graphical stuff, specifically finer art. And I do understand more then the average person on color theory.

The thing to keep in mind with all of this is that black isn't black. White isn't white. White and black have tints. You can have cool whites, and cool blacks. You can have warm whites and warm blacks. What you will never have is white whites and black blacks.

Lowering color contrast is a trick that is used in art to make things seem far away or behind the more colorful pieces of art. Part of that is because reduced contrast makes details harder to see, which corresponds in people's minds to distance because distance makes details harder to see. (other factors are going to be things like that atmosphere has it's own colors and these begin to compete and wash out colors at a distance).

High contrast makes it easier to read text. But it needs to be the right type of high contrast.

If you try to pick the blackest black you can and the brightest white then that means you are letting the viewer's monitor dictate what the tinting will be. And mixing colors incorrectly results in a shimmering or 'vibrating' effect in the eyes. So depending on the user's settings it may be easy to read or it could be irritating. Which as a designer isn't going to be something you want.

I have a idea that the author of the "Web Design in 4 Minutes" is extremely good at writing CSS and not so hot at web design. Which are two different things.

Blackest black and whitest white used together will trigger my dyslexia and makes reading almost impossible. Even though I have very mild case of dyslexia! But like you said, slight tint makes wonders. Even in my case.

Assuming I can’t change my background color to anything else than #000000, what kind of text color would you suggest other than #fff to improve readability?

I struggled with this problem a lot when I redesigned my website recently. I wanted a pure black background mainly for Amoleds (and because I love it) but couldn’t settle on a text color other than white. The problem I had was due to all those color shifting night modes like f.lux or iOS’s Night Shift. Once I used that on top of a tinted white, the text looked way to colorful which I thought to be distracting.

I hate websites with black backgrounds. It makes my eyes swim. I always turn off colour or just skip them.

Thanks for the input. I personally love it, plus it saves energy!

Once I figured out a good way to let my users change from Night Mode (dark bg) to Day Mode (white bg) without any scripts I plan to implement that as an option.

If you insist on a black background (and I think that's less accessible) you should chose a font that is off-white toward yellow. Something like ffffee.

I don't want to sideline a thread on a single point, but I do think there is a difference between the unlit black ink on white paper of years passed, and the modern backlit monitor shining like a bright a flash light in your eyes.

I don't think "dark theme" is always the right answer, but I think with a new medium, a new basic is worth considering.

If your monitor is shining like a bright flashlight in your eyes, then you have your monitor's brightness turned up too high. (And/or your room's ambient lighting is too low.) A window with a white background should appear no brighter than a white piece of paper held up next to your monitor. If you use this technique to adjust the brightness of your monitor, you can read black-on-white text all day long and never get eye fatigue. I've been adjusting my displays this way for ~20 years.

I almost agree with you, but the truth is even with almost minimum brightness, I still prefer that background color get slightly darker than pure white (and same in black backgrounds: the text should not be perfect white).

Sort of like the way HN implements it. Grey or something off white tends to be easier on the eyes than pure white.

Reflective media like paper behave a little differently than emissive media like an LCD. A normal sheet of paper under normal lighting conditions won't reach the same brightness as an LCD. An LCD is much bigger than any reasonable book and it emits light uniformly across it's entire area (close to impossible for any piece of paper unless it's affixed on a flat plate). Also most paper is not actually very white.

That's the problem isn't it?

The goal of design isn't to correct the user, but to correct for the user.

> The goal of design isn't to correct the user, but to correct for the user.

But you can't solve brightness problem with just design of a web page: you can't know for sure that all of your users are in the dark, or that their monitors emit some well known amount of light. Unless, of course, you do natural selection thing by making another category of users suffer and, eventually, leave your page because of your design.

And why is it web designer's job to adapt to myriad of real world devices and conditions? Shouldn't DPIs and automatic brightness correction things in hand-held devices and other OS-side tricks handle this problem already?

Then again, what modern designers are correcting for with, say, slick hair-thin fonts? It only adds extra work: now I need to disable these fonts somehow to make page readable. That's almost like calibrating brightness with a piece of paper in the post above.

...and make everyone who has their monitors actually set to a sane brightness and contrast suffer? I'm not going to turn up the brightness (and thus decrease battery life and backlight longevity) just so I can see poorly-contrasted text that someone thought would be a good idea "to correct for the user" who should really be the one adjusting his/her badly set hardware.

I came to say almost the exact same thing. I use dark themes wherever possible, and flux when not, because backlit monitors are not print.

However, I've also started to spend more and more time on my eink Android tablet. Video is of course unwatchable, some apps refuse to launch, and scrolling is unpleasant at best. Still, I think the tradeoffs are worth it, especially late at night.

This is why I send interesting articles etc to my kindle to read. It's so much nicer reading longform stuff on eink than a laptop screen. The conversion isn't always right, but it's normally good enough.

I'm with you on fonts. So much so that my first Firefox customization on any computer is locking down the font. Every webpage gets the same font, because I like that font and find it readable and I don't see why I should have to look at anything else.

Content :: Fonts and Colors :: Advanced :: Allow pages to choose their own fonts

I'd like to use this too. Currently, my adblocker is blocking fonts, and fontawesome is a nightmare because icons everywhere are missing. How do you handle that?

Sadly, I don't. This breaks a few sites terribly, as I end up with random characters instead of whatever the "awesome" icon was supposed to be. Usually it's obvious enough from context what the icon should have been, and it just looks ugly.

Like this, unfortunately: https://gitlab.com/Darkenetor/userstyles-userscripts/tree/ma...

Firefox used to have an optional exception for icon fonts on the "allow custom fonts" switch which I found very sufficient. Not sure when it was removed or why, but that was a big loss.

Keep sending them emails until they change it to SVG. Fonts are not supposed to be (ab)used like this.

It's the user breaking the convention in this case. They're capable of fixing the page if they want to. Spamming the author with emails would simply be harassment.

ActiveX controls used to be conventional too.

This dingbat crap also hinders accessibility, as you can’t specify alt text like you could for images.

Well, icons are not intuitive anyway, so it probably doesn't make difference :)

> Black text has been fine since the first printing press

Keep in mind that paper is not an emissive surface, like an LCD panel is. Black-on-white is fine for e.g. e-ink displays or calibrated brightness (~15-30% on most displays, which is not the default).

Further, book paper - particularly for non-technical books, where diagrams are rare and reading is done in long, uninterrupted stretches - is often intentionally off-white, to lower the contrast and make it easier on the eyes.

Off-white paper is there for cost-saving reasons, used mostly for cheap romances and thrillers typically sold in airport bookstores. I don't think they even consider readers comfort when choosing it.

Textbooks with glossy, bright white paper are a pain to read under a library light. But they make images look great.

Smartphones tune down brightness in power saving mode (and so do e-ink books). Most websites are barely legible under those conditions, because web designers have been so heavily corrupted by backlight.

> Not a big fan of @font-face. Another host to visit.

While it is an additional HTTP request, it's not necessarily another host. You can perfectly host fonts in your own site

True. But how many actually do that vs. how many just slap a “fonts.google.com” link because “meh”.

I develop on the train to work a lot, where the wifi quality ranges from "can almost stream video" to "in the middle of a field". Whenever I add google fonts to a webapp I'm working on, I really notice it. Lately I've simply not been using them anymore for this reason.

Yeah, which sucks.

I use gulp-google-webfonts to download fonts to my resource folder and use them from there. Even then I'm careful not to use more than 1 or 2.

> Not a big fan of @font-face. Another host to visit. Another asset to download. My fonts are fine. If I have the font you like, then great! If I don't, please make it look reasonable with system defaults.

I will reiterate my past comment that it is inevitable for many non-English scripts.


Only Korean? But if you don't have a decent font on your machine, how the text is rendered?

> Only Korean?

AFAIK there is a similar problem for Japanese: MS Mincho/Gothic, MS PMincho/PGothic (this one is too popular that there are several metric-compatible free fonts), MS UI Gothic, Meiryo, Yu Gothic, Hiragino font family and of course Noto Sans CJK.

> But if you don't have a decent font on your machine, how the text is rendered?

Awfully. Imagine that everything is rendered in System or Fixedsys.

You don't need to visit another host just because you're using @font-face! The fonts can be stored locally. If you visit my home page, coyotetracks.org, it loads five fonts (bold and italic Concourse, and regular, bold, and italic Equity) for an extra 82.18K -- which, unless you're taking steps to prevent it, your browser is going to cache from that point on. (If you visit another page, you'll probably get the regular version of Concourse, too, for an extra 11.45K.)

I just don't get the HN hatred for downloadable fonts in and of themselves. If you're talking about an extra megabyte or two of JavaScript and unoptimized fonts, okay, but that's a problem of implementation. Why this cranky "it's just the text that matters, stop trying to make it look pretty" mindset?

What is the username in this image? [ https://i.vgy.me/faxIj4.png ]

Many people select fonts where there isn't ambiguity between similar characters like o/O/0 and I/l/1. Reading the home page for the font [ https://concoursefont.com/ ] gives me a headache personally. The lowercase 't' and 'f' fight one another. The 'f' with its flowing curve and the 't' in its rigid straightness makes the text fail to flow well.

My favorite font is guilty of having ambiguous characters as well - and while I'm not personally very bothered by it - I can understand and empathize with the annoyance other people have towards issues like this.

I use Stylus to inject my own stylesheets and force every website to use my chosen fonts - their design be damned. But I also eventually write my own CSS for the site myself if I use it frequently so my opinion is likely invalid as 99.9999999% of users would never do that.

I suppose, as selfish as it might be, that I would like people to at least try to see if they can bear to use a web site the way I designed it, perhaps for the same reason a conscientious chef would very likely prefer you to at least try her food before immediately reaching for the salt and pepper.

As an aside: I don't use Concourse as a body font; it's not something that strikes me as particularly suitable for long stretches of text. But I think it's fine in headlines. It also has multiple letter variations you can use, and my web site uses the "British" stylistic set, which has a different "f" and "t" (and "l" and a few other characters) from the default used on most of its site.

This was answered in a sibling thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19608696.

Most fonts are ugly, see ubuntu.com

Indeed #555 for text is ridiculous.

"Ridiculous" is subjective, but I tend to go by WebAIM's contrast guidelines for web accessibility when looking at text color vs. background color. While #555 text would be lighter than what I'd normally pick, if it's on an #FFF background, it's a contrast ratio of 7.45:1 -- which means it passes the most stringent WebAIM requirement (level AAA for normal text, which is a minimum of 7:1 contrast).

While I've definitely seen web pages that have gone bonkers with light grey text on an off-white background, a lot of folks seem to greatly overestimate how difficult to read "grey text" is. I've seen folks on HN rail against #444 text -- which even on an #EEE background is over an 8:1 contrast ratio.

a lot of folks seem to greatly overestimate how difficult to read "grey text" is

That's their eyes against your words, and I'd be far more likely to trust the judgement of their eyes because they are the ones consuming your content.

A lot of designers seem to love ignoring the complaints of their users, forgetting that those users are their audience and pissing them off will quickly make them leave.

Thank you for bringing that up, I had no idea about this contrast ratio thinghy at 7:1, I'll make sure to comply in the future!

Is it accurate to call those numbers contrast ratios when you seem to be ignoring gamma correction?

You can take that up with the maintainers of the WebAIM contrast checker, if you think it horribly biases the results somehow.


Choosing the absolute minimum acceptable readability is not something to shoot for imho.

> I have to disagree about the problem here. Black text has been fine since the first printing press. And if you do want to make a page less in-your-face with regards to contrast, then it would be much better to dim the background. After all, the paper we read is mostly this grey-ish, yellow-ish colour.

I have to disagree with your disagreement. Paper and screens are completely different. Paper is passive whilst screen emit light.

So it's much better to have screens have a dark background and emit the text, so our eyes aren't as strained receiving so much light. It's far easier to see a headlight in the dark for example then during the day.

Whilst for paper, the only reason it's black on white was that we had dark ink which went on light materials. It's a lot harder to find light ink that goes on dark material.

> Black text on a white background can be harsh on the eyes.

I did not take this to mean a non-inverted color scheme is hard. I understood this as pure black on pure white is harsh.

Notice he uses #566b78 as the body color instead of #000000.

>I am just very tired of “designers” doing “pretty” stuff instead of solving a problem

Rewording, I am tired of "pretty" being an add-on or, worse, the entire product.

> Black text has been fine since the first printing press.

Isn’t this due to cost?

Haha, thanks for sharing this. It's been a while since I wrote that!

You're right to mention it because in the 2nd step "Centering", I use the same technique: adding a max-width and using auto margins for the left and right sides.

On a side note, this reminds of the "Doing it more vs. doing it better" thread that was here on HN yesterday [1], and how the JS code of "Web Design in 4 minutes" is quite bad… I just wrote those 50 lines directly in the HTML, at the end of the page, and tested it manually a few times. As a result, it is tightly coupled to the markup, and still has lots of bugs. But I imagine that if I had focused on writing "beautiful" code instead, I probably wouldn't have shipped the project in the first place.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19600440

Bloody hell, I've been trying to find for this for ages. I knew there was _something_ I'd read that gave a great step by step overview that I knew at the time would be helpful whilst teach beginners, but I couldn't remember what it was called or who wrote it, and it's nearly impossible to search for when the details of it were sketchy ("step by step web design tutorial"??). Just want to say thank you for writing this (and thank you to OP for posting the link)

Thanks for shipping it!

Last year I started to build a web app without knowing how to code -- I started not knowing the difference between CSS and JS. You can imagine how confusing the current ecosystem is to beginners. (My co-founder and I taught ourselves to be the technical co-founders). Your tutorial really helped, and I'm using Bulma :).

Oh wow, great read... I wish I had seen that earlier. Thanks for sharing! To elaborate, the rabbit hole I remember going down was something like googling "how to center css", then after being confused by a number of horrible incantations, arrived at flexbox then CSS grid, which was slightly less confusing, and then I took some time to really study the basics/fundamentals.

It also doesn't help that so many websites, even personal sites/portfolios these days, have so much markup goop and cruft that makes it quite hard to learn by example :(

Although Jeremy Thomas' design might be more complete, I do like the minimalism of your approach - a few lines that can be dropped into a page to quickly take it from unreadable to a pleasant experience. The only things I'd add are font-family: "San Francisco", "Helvetica", sans-serif;, and perhaps line-height: 1.5.

If you search for "motherf--ing website" you also have many examples of a very simple but readable website. (I hate the edgy language though.)


> (I hate the edgy language though.)

I understand where you're coming from, but I do think it serves an important purpose here.

The language is chosen to underscore the message and ensure virality. The goal was to get the point in front of as many people as possible, and it did that quite well IMO.

I'm not sure that message could have spread as far and wide as it did without that language. Perhaps if FAANG pushed it...

> I recommend "Web Design in 4 Minutes" from the CSS guru behind Bulma

There's irony in the fact that this website is completely non-functional and no content is displayed when JS is disabled. You'd think a CSS guru would not rely on JS to display text.

> You'd think a CSS guru would not rely on JS to display text

The reason people love this website is because the content changes as you learn each concept. The way you "change" content in web development without reloading is through javascript. It is about as close to a perfect use case as you can find.

There is nothing ironic about that.

I'm sure he could do that by navigating to a new page every time. But the tutorial is about styling one step at a time without getting distracted, and I think that is solid teaching.

Once the text goes to gray, it is objectively harder to read.

This is the best CSS/design tutorial I've seen, thank you for sharing.

That is an interesting format. It's encouraging to see small, incremental changes to the style sheet result in so vast improvements in legibility.

I agree, but I found the first half much more useful (so far) than the last half. The second half was honestly a little overwhelming it what it felt like it was assuming about my capabilities. Less of "this small change or some slight variation will help a lot" and more "use your design experience to choose something visually pleasing here", which honestly, the lack of such experience is why I was reading such a guide.

For me it started being less legible after the font change to Arial and kept going downhill from there.

At the point where the contrast of the text was reduced, I was off the hook. I'd rather do that the way OP did, by changing the background to a pleasant pastel. Either way, I'm impressed with the format.

Thanks for sharing this.

* I clicked your link * closed the HN tab * was completely blown away by the article * "Reopen closed tab" and up-voted your comment

This is a wonderful tutorial. I wish back worked though.

Agreed. I keep wanting to compare the differences between two steps.

That's really cool and will help me a lot with CSS I think. However, as others have mentioned, the change from black to a gray text color #555 makes things slightly worse and would be better if it were a darker gray. It does make one trust the article less.

The text just becomes harder and harder to read the more it progresses.

Wow, that's nearly definition of a great tutorial.

As the contrast keeps getting lower that page keeps getting harder to read. We don't all have super bright macbooks turned to full brightness.

> What is the first thing you need to work on?

Your hyperlinks need to work without Javascript.

Looks promising for a Web Development quicky.

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