what makes a link a link?

The experts state links should be blue and underlined. However, they don’t realize they are too late to […]

The experts state links should be blue and underlined. However, they don’t realize they are too late to try to enforce this: more websites have flaunted the convention of blue underlines than have respected it, and now users basically are in a constant state of not knowing what is a link and what is not. The situationis not hopeless, though.

Because almost all major commercial sites flaunt the blue underlined rule, anything underlined or in a different color in a body of black text will be suspected to be a link. There are other conventions that have slowly arisen, mostly due to website designers tendency to copy anything successful (before you write me to tell me I’m a jerk for saying this: a. yes, I know it’s your boss who makes you do it and b. good artists borrow, great artists steal.)

Some of these successful new conventions include:
(based on observations made during usability testing of a number of different sites)

  • using a different color or underlining links
  • Yahoo! style hierarchal menus. You don’t have to color or underline these to get them to be clicked
  • lists in the left hand area of the page (cnet style) if that area is not also used for content.
  • Amazon-type tabs (thanks tom!)
  • using buttons that look clickable

    thanks, Steve! visit his site and read his book, Don’t Make Me Think.

and I’m sure there are still more conventions out there.
know of more? write me links@eleganthack.com

It’s time usability folks realize that the result of designers constantly flouting the blue underline convention is that users have adapted. There are now a lot of ways to make a link look like a link, letting users know what to click on. It’s time designers realize that because that there are so many ways to make a link look like a link, they should start using them. Your palette is big enough now, quit messing with people’s heads.
(except, of course, in the service of art)

Links Want To Be Links is an article that is both insightful and bizarre. It pushes the idea that links should be typically blue and always underlined, and image borders must be left on

(I’ve never seen anyone who used the web post-lynx who cared if images had borders or not. In fact, a typical surfer clicks all images, so you might as well link them all).

The article gets truely weird when the author suggests that different kinds of links should be in different typefaces. I started to consider buying the The Non-Designer’s Design Book for the author of the article, Jukka Korpela. He uses so many colors, font sizes and font faces throughout the article, I found it extremely difficult to read, and even though I knew his philosophy was underlines=links, I couldn’t help but run my mouse over the green and blue words he colored for emphasis. (Is the bold tag broken? or if he’s that old school, how about the em tag…)

I felt like I was reading a 5th grade girl’s letter, full of i’s topped with hearts, items underlined three times and six exclaimation points at the end of each sentence. Really!!!!!