Readability of type must be an important subject. Ever since the invention of the printed word and movable type designers and typographers have studied and worked on ways to make type as readable as it can be. Legendary type designers and typographers like Stanley Morison, Jan Tschihold and Paul Renner have spent a large part of their careers on the subject. They very early understood that the primary goal of typography and communication design is to convey information.
With the invention of the computer CRT screen and more recently flat screens and the necessity for people to spend more time on the Web, readability of type has become even more important. Special typefaces have been developed for the Web by Matthew Carter (Verdana and Georgia) and others to better cope with the low resolution of the computer screen and improve the readability of primarily body type.
More recently, usability guru Jakob Nielsen, in his book “Prioritizing Web Usability” (Chapter 7) writes “Remember, reading online is much more difficult than reading on paper. Highly contrasting text and background colors make it easier” and “Avoid using similar colors such as light gray on white background. Low contrast can cause eye strain and discomfort.”
With so much emphasis on readability for more than a century it is surprising that we are seeing a trend in web design towards gray body type on a white background. Even people that write about typography, legibility and readability are making their web site hard to read by reducing the contrast between the type and the background.
Don’t get me wrong, those are often beautiful and professional web designs, but what happened to readability and usability. I cannot be the only person who is finding it hard to read gray text on a white background.
Who else out there is having problems reading gray text on a white background? Who is not having problems and actually find it easier on your eyes? If you have used designs with gray text on a white background, did you perform any usability testing? If so, what were the results?
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