Sunday 10 February 2002

A site for sore eyes

Under a subject line, There is no polite way to say this, Meryl Yourish writes:

Jonathon, I can’t read your site.

The type is too small. The white on grey/black irritates my eyes. After about two minutes, I have to stop and look elsewhere before I can continue to read. If you write a longer piece, I have to stop several times and come back to it before I can finish it. This isn’t something I intend to do on a regular basis.

The reason you rarely see white text on black background in the print world is because it’s generally used only for emphasis, as in pullquotes or the large-type lead on the first page of an article. It’s known as “reverse type”. And it’s called that for a reason. Print publishers learned long ago that reading an entire magazine article in white-on-black is hard on the eyes, and readers hate it. I don’t understand why so many Web publishers don’t get that. There are many combinations of colors that don’t hurt the eyes—even the orange over at BBird’s works.

If you want people like me to read your site, you may want to consider giving us an alternative version to read. One with larger type and black-on-white text. CSS allows you to do this, does it not? “Skins”?

I like your blog, Jonathon, but as it is, my only alternative is to have my browser backgrounds option override yours. That’s not an option I’m willing to take for just one site. I generally won’t read a site that’s white-on-black, or white on anything dark.

I hope you don’t take this letter the wrong way, but I simply can’t keep quiet any longer. My eyes are hurting too much. And damn, they’re getting worse every year. Getting older bites.

Seems pretty polite to me. In fact I’d love to read the impolite version.

Meryl’s was actually the second email I’ve received about the difficulty of reading the text on this site. When the first came about a week ago, I replied promising to implement a dual style sheet solution that would allow visitors to choose between cool small white text on a dark gray background and conservative adjustable black text on a white background. Meryl’s message convinced me that I need to make this change quickly.

I like the current design—mainly because I’m not a designer yet quite a number of people have commented favorably on how the site looks. But I don’t feel any sense of attachment to the design; and I’d be crazy to hold on to it at the risk of losing visitors, particularly ones who take the trouble to offer informed, well-argued criticism, expressed with an admirable blend of candor and tact. Both the requests for change I received were like that.

Of course, I may well have implemented a more legible design even sooner had I received feedback along the lines of “Hey Delacour, who the fuck do you think you’re designing for? Pixies? Get rid of the bullshit white text on a dark background and give us something we can actually read, you pretentious clown!”

In any case, I spent most of today working on a new design. I have something that I think works and I’ll invite criticism before I switch over. It might look a little like Waeguk is not a soup because I’ve based it on the same three column plus top box CSS layout from thenoodleincident. I think Stavros has done a superb job of customizing the template: his design looks stylish, is easy to read, and perfectly integrates images and text.

Alternatively—since the general consensus seems to be that I have too much time on my hands—I may spend another day fussing with a similar layout from Eric Costello. Either way, I think that the two fixed outer columns plus a flexible inner column design suits a Radio weblog particularly well. So I’ll press on.

And you know I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

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