Link visual

Make links stand out

Let me tell you a little story. I once worked at a very large software company. They have a big page, that’s their product. Every developer had to work on this one page. One of my first tasks at this company was to change the copy on the logged-out startpage. The new ticket was provided in the change request ticket. It was just a short paragraph with a link in it.

I checked out the repository, worked on my task and pushed it to master. Normally you have to get a +1 from a colleague to approve it. But this was just a small change. I didn’t program anything so I just swapped out the text. What could possibly go wrong?

About 15 minutes later a colleague approached me. She was responsible for the logged-out startpage. She was furious and started yelling at me, asking me if I’m stupid. I was totally baffled. Why was she yelling at me and calling me names? “Look at what you’ve done! Look at it!”, she shouted. I had a look but couldn’t see what was wrong. “Are you blind? Look at it!”, she went on. Now I got angry: “What do you want from me?” So she told me to use the mouse and hover over this one link within the copy. Now I saw it: It seemed like I had forgotten to close the anchor tag, so the rest of the page was a link. I was able to see this because the hover-state was an underline of the link.

Why didn’t I see this in the first place? Well… 8-9% of the male population suffer from some kind of colour blindness. I’m one of these 8-9%. The copy on the page used #333 as its colour value, whereas the link colour was #006567 - a very dark green. And since the normal link wasn’t underlined, I didn’t see the little error I’d made because I couldn’t see it! I couldn’t distinguish between the normal copy colour and the link colour.

a bad example for designing a link because the link depends on a colour
In this example we have a dark green as link colour. People who have problems seeing the colour green can't make out the link in this case.

Here, the learning is that you should always think about how to make a link stand out from the rest of the text.

Years later, the new design lead asked me to swing by. He wanted to create a new link colour and had heard about my impairment. So he showed me five examples of a new link colour. Five examples of the same text with a link in it, but in five different colours. I was only able to make out two out of the five colours, so he chose one of those two. Instead of #006567 they’re now using #909090 as the link colour.

an example for a better link design
The link still depends on a colour and it is still green, but the designer mixed it with a little bit of blue. On top the link got brighter so it stands out. On the other hand the colour is too bright. The contrast checker will tell you that this colour contrast has failed.

They could top this off by making it even more clear and adding a good old underline. That’s what we’ve all learned. A link is underlined. Why would you want to get rid of something that works and everyone knows?

a good example for a link design because we have color and an underline
This is the best example for a link. The colour is dark again to pass the contrast check. But additionally the link is underlined. Now that is what I call "standing out".