Let’s talk about text. Text is the core to any web experience, and in applications, it serves several very important purposes. Since text is so important, it needs to be legible. That’s why I grade digital experiences based on the legibility of their text.
What I look for
There is a set of guidelines from the W3C for how much contrast text must have with its background in order to be legible. Experienced UX practitioners can spot too-low contrast fairly quickly, but when in doubt, tools like Snook.ca’s Colour Contrast Check are a very helpful resource. There are several others, but the Snook.ca one seems to have the most helpful features.
Here is an example of non-compliant color contrast from the main navigation on the website for my favorite Phoenix skateboard shop:
To become compliant, they need to swap the white for black (or otherwise dark) text, or darken the navigation background colors a little bit.
Text on noisy backgrounds
The other main culprit for a negative mark on legibility is text on noisy backgrounds. Often, designers will place a visually appealing, but visually noisy image “full bleed” within an experience. They may then choose to put a title or some descriptive text on top of the image. This is especially common with blog content.
Here is an example of difficult-to-read text on a noisy image:
On the flipside, Juxtapoz.com (pictured below) has a good approach to text on top of images. They place a semi-transparent background behind the text.
There are a bunch of other issues that can make text unreadable such as:
- Poor font choice
- Too-small font sizes (16px is recommended for body text)
- Aggressive type manipulation such as decreasing spacing too much or stretching the letterforms out
- Pixelated letters from some typefaces on some web browsers
If you have text in your experiences, and chances are, you do, make sure your audience can read it without too much trouble. Remember that people reading your content may have issues with their vision such as colorblindness or blurry vision, so even if you can read it, there may be many who cannot.