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A Little Typographical Rant

#666: text color of the beast.

Charlie Martin


March 30, 2014 - 10:00 am

I’ve got cataracts, and thanks to a combination of bureaucratic CF at the doctor, at my new insurance company, and sure enough thanks to Obamacare, I still haven’t been able to get them fixed. (May. Maybe.)

For those of you who’ve never had them, the effect is more or less like having really dirty glasses all the time. Small print is hard. (Small print in Chinese is really hard, I have to resort of a magnifying glass.) You lose contrast, and glare washes out everything.

Now, here I am, reading web pages. I’m not going to mention who I’m using as an example, because it’s not Pejman Yousefzadeh’s fault, it’s some damn hipster web designer, who probably wears plaid pajamas and drinks hot chocolate while talking to his mommy and daddy about healthcare. But here’s a fragment of text:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 17.50.10

Notice anything about it? Like it’s a little washed out looking?

So I apply my mad web skillz, and discover the background is, yes, white, but the text color is (102,102,102), or in hex #666.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 17.50.48

This is called, technically “40 percent gray.” In other words, it’s 60 percent white. The text color is more white than not.


This is 40 percent gray. Does this look black to you?

I mean, WTF? Are we supposed to read this?

It seems to be a trend too. A little googling and I find that #666 is a very popular text color. It’s supposed to be “easier on the eyes.”

Dear web designers: Go buy a book. You know, those paper things? I realize they’re old fashioned, but buy one. Or borrow one for crying out loud.

Open the book. What color is the text? That’s right, it’s black. Or damn near black. A 90 percent gray maybe. If it’s a recent book, and a textbook, it might even be some color like a dark Williamsburg blue. It’s not 40 percent gray.

Oh, and using like 10 point font is silly too, but that’s a rant for another time.

For those of you who find this nonsense hard to read, there’s actually a handy web site called  What they do is take a web page, strip it of the hipster cutenesses, and present it in a reasonably-large font, using black text. (Or nearly black — it’s actually a slightly yellow-green close to 90 percent gray.  But it’s close to black.)  Then it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 18.21.20

Now, isn’t that better?


As if it were actually meant to be read.

And now get the hell offa my lawn.

Charlie Martin writes on science, health, culture and technology for PJ Media. Follow his 13 week diet and exercise experiment on Facebook and at PJ Lifestyle

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, your lawn reference needs some explanation for the hipsters. In fact, it's so retro, it may actually be hip.

Dear hipsters:

You see, long before people your age knew anything about hexadecimal colors, "children" (that's what they were called back when no one gave a crap about the political opinions of anyone under 30) played "games" outside with "friends", often using a "ball." Their balls were similar to something you might see today on "TV" if you watch "sports" with "other human beings" that you didn't mind spending time with because they weren't constantly trying to be ironic - or, as it was known back then "jerks." Sometimes, the ball would end off in the front yard of someone too old to possibly be hip enough to manage the "free world." These totally uncool geezers would yell, "get the hell offa my lawn" because American rights used to include the right to own property - hence "my" lawn - but definitely not the right to have geezers pay for your contraceptives.

Hope that helps.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The solutions mentioned here all talk about fixes the reader can make, and therefore accept that this is the reader's problem. Guys, there's a lot of stuff online out there, and 99.9% of it is completely fungible. If the type's illegible, the popups are too hard to close, if it has autoplay videos, why are you even bothering? Go read something else.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I use the NoSquint plug-in for Firefox heavily to zoom text and force pages to fit on my laptop screen. It remembers settings on a site-by-site basis.

Haven't tried it to force text color, but it does that too. Not sure what the side effects would be there.

My opinion of these web designers you mention is too rude to repeat here. They better not whine about me changing their precious art.
(show less)
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (75)
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Love hearing these complaints. I remember when 80 characters by 24 lines (with block graphics!) was a high-end display; and when you glued a piece of green plastic over the monitor to reduce eye-strain from staring at white on black all day.

Technology is always a moving target, and it appears that as soon as the real professionals catch up with the current stuff, something else comes along. Good professional developers are just barely handling tablets and smart phones as of this date - and I have heard that most Google Glass stuff is still pure junk. There are TVs in 3D now - in a few years, that technology will take off, and there will be complaints about clunky zooming, movement through the "model," and walls that disappear when viewed from another angle (but are still there to bump into).

As a developer - keeps me young. Though not young-looking, feh.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree completely. Its bad enough that everybody uses microspically small font sizes, but then also use grey instead of mostly black, or even worse use a colored font on a colored background, when both colors are close, like pink on purple, or have a background that is almost as dark as the text, or a white font on grey background.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oops. It's bystolic 5 mg-not 50 have to get the cataract done
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Charlie, My insurance ihas such a high deductible, I'm putting off my c ataract surgery.The optho is a friend who I may ask to do it free.A little more info for you.I'm more and more convinced the cardiometabolic diseaes are linked by insuli8n resistance. I tqalked to Ralph e fronzo in houston and askesd if i shoud draw adiponectin or C peptice to follow the IR. He gave me a K.I.S.S answer-meaning t6o draw the C peptice. I've had several patients with COPD (Including the dreaded Ex) who've gone off their inhalers by using Bystolic (50 and VZ 0.60 I started a patient who isn't T2Dm on this a cpl of days ago.The pertinent point is she is NOT a T2Dm.THis will be very interesting.And Novo is interested ,too Please think about our doing a segment here about the cardiometabolic l9ink.Also,are you near a FP/IM residency program. I can probably get you in and they can be a conduit for the medsAlso, I've developed a facial otio n that gets rid of wrinkles,sags,age/liver spots,seb K's It's selling well despite my obscene mark up.Ask Sarah Hoyt if she wants some
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not sure if someone has pointed this out yet, but, while #666666 is probably too low contrast for many users, you are mistaken to say that “the text color is more white than not.” Hex 66 = 102, which is 40% of 255. Since 255 is light and 0 is dark, 102 is closer to dark than light.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have two little buttons on my tool bar in my Safari Browser on my fabulous apple computer ... I click one and the text gets larger, I click again and it gets even larger. I click the other button and the text gets smaller.

So why try to change all the hipster twits with their unreadable font usage and simply change what you do when you get there to read it ....

It's easier to change yourself than change the world. That would also be good advice for democrats too.

Oh ya ... one more thing .. .on my iPad I simple use a finger and thumb spread or pinch to make what's on screen larger and more readable ....

This whining about gray font color and size is completely from the past .... it's out of date ... no longer an issue ... we have built in solutions to blogging idiots .. either don't go there are use the neat little buttons or other features that most browser now have in to overcome your cataracts.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment

Actually, not really a "typographical" problem even though typography is certainly involved. Printing-wise, it's much more of a "contrast" problem, kind of like the reverse of all those black ink tattoos our dark-skinned Negro athletes seem to enjoy. Typography has a "color" concept but it's more about the amount of type on the page than the PMS ink color.

But, if you find yourself running out of little typographical rants, I would recommend "The Elements of Typographical Style" by Robert Bringhurst. It should provide adequate fodder for your next several lifetimes.

Having survived the printing industry's invasion by the Macs, I kind of envy you your cataracts. There are way too many out there who don't know what they don't know.

37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ah, yes, the famous "ransom note layout" problem.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Browser preferences. Precise location depends on the browser, all browsers allow you specify typeface size. Safari, preferences, advanced, "no less than," Firefox preferences under "content" you select typeface size and color.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I shouldn't have to. First, I make one Helluva lot more money than most really hip, stylish, and young people, so I buy stuff people are trying to make a profit selling. Second, if you're in business, you seek to please your customer, not make them work to do business with you. You're obviously a product of a recent government school education or you went to work for government right out of school.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Art, I don't think that's a particularly reasonable stance to take. Web designers are not targetting you - and only you - as the expected reader of the website. They usually anticipate thousands or even millions of different people viewing the site. Their target audience may be much younger than you or I and may well be expected to have much better eyesight than we have.

As soon as it became obvious that the internet was going to be a success, designers talked about ways to accomodate the needs of people that may have issues with font sizes and umpteen other usability issues. They've come up with techniques of the kind that Chip mentioned. Are they perfect? No. But I have to say that for the most part they are not too bad either.

If you can come up with a font size or color that will please absolute everybody, then I look forward to hearing about it. In the meantime, we all have to get used to the idea of adjusting preferences in our browsers when the defaults chosen by the web designer are not good for us.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fail, Sparky.

Setting a font size of 10 and using 40% gray has nothing to do with trying to accommodate different browsers, and everything to do with mindless, spoiled children following the latest fads.

All browsers render text as black, if the web designer builds his pages that way.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't teach grandma to suck eggs, sonny. A fair number of sites thwart that in various ways -- not least being layouits that aren't sufficiently responsive to handle type size changes. In fact, until their most recent screwing about, Facebook was bad that way.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're absolutely right.

Remember that there are no official qualifications necessary to create a website or to publish it. Anyone with 5 minutes or less of self-education can compose a website and upload it. Some web designers don't know enough to make their sites flexible for users like us - I have cataracts too - and some designers are so arrogant that they take steps to keep users from changing font sizes or whatever because it compromises their artistic vision.

I'm sure someone will eventually try to regulate who can upload to the internet "for the public good", citing exactly the same kind of concerns you've mentioned in your article. Personally, I hope we resist that with every fiber of our beings because the world is over-regulated as it is. But regulators always seem to creep into everything so I'm not holding my breath that we will hold them off.

In the meantime, I would suggest using the "contact us" link to contact the people behind the websites you find objectionable and tell them why you find their designs unsatisfactory. There is at least a chance that they will be persuaded to clean up their acts....

37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The other problem is that a lot of web designers don't check to make sure that what they are doing works on laptops, as well as big monitors. So laptop-only people have to do all kinds of horizontal scrolling and other weird maneuvers to get around a page. Ugh.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The other thing they often fail to check is tablets and smart phones. Something that looks fine on a desktop or laptop can look horrible on a tablet or smart phone.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Youth is a large part of the problem, but another is art directors.

Based on a couple decades' experience in publishing, I have a suspicion that a great number of ADs are dyslexic. They find type is hard to read and so they have a tendency to treat it as just another graphic element, like a block of color or an image. They stand back and move the pieces around, reshaping them until the page "looks good."

For example, in a lot of publishing, not much attention gets paid to length of text lines and point size and leading — at least from a readability standpoint. (And type face, too, but this is another matter.) This is especially prevalent in art(y) publishing.

Given that civilization has been using print for more than a few years now (yes, really! It has! Though you'd never know it from the online world.), there are some well-understood and -tested readability formulae relating text line length to point size to leading. Even using a rough-and-ready rule such as "no text line shall be longer than 1.8 x the length of a lower-case alphabet" will do a lot to improve readability of any piece of text. So does adding a point or two of leading (spacing) between lines.

But the internet's other factoids relating to text are: sentences are shorter, paragraphs are shorter, people's attention-spans are...

So maybe this doesn't matter all that much, anyway.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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