Home > UX Design - Research and Insights > Underline links: usability, UX and readability

In our first guestblog for UX Booth, Justinmind looks at the underline link and asks if its days as go-to UI element are numbered.

The underlined hyperlink has time on its side. Since the dawn of the internet era, links have been a cornerstone of our online experiences; during those 3 decades, designers have played with different looks for hyperlinks, but so far nothing has come close to taking the underline’s crown as most common link convention. The underlined hyperlink has become one of the most common, most recognizable features of our online experience.

But is the underlined link really as good as its longevity suggests? As device use and user habits, not to mention our understanding of UX and usability, go through a cycle of endless revolution, is it time for designers to hang up the underline and find a new way to display links? Justinmind takes a closer look at how the underlined link achieved such status, and how designers might be able to improve the UI pattern in the future.

Read the full post on UX Booth!

How the underlined link became popular

So how did the convention of underlining links arise? Of course, the underline was around way before Tim Berners-Lee got started; in the print days it was used, according to Wikipedia, as “a more or less horizontal line immediately below a portion of writing, used (…) to emphasize key text”. The blog Practical Typography advises “don’t underline. Ever,” citing the habit as an ugly hangover from typewriter days which is no longer necessary, given that we now have other methods of emphasis available.

When the world started writing and reading online, other (better) methods of emphasis became available, and the underline got a make-over: quickly, underlining came to represent a link to a relevant resource. And the underlined link was born.


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Link underline: yes or no?

The underlined link’s longevity is understandable. First off, it has brand recognition, having been in use for 30 years. It also ensures link visibility when users scan a text, and facilitates identification of already-visited links.

The underline’s interruptive nature proves useful to some users: guided by links they can more easily navigate to important on-page information. As noted in Smashing Magazine, “remember that users don’t read; they scan. You’ve heard that before, and it’s true. So, make sure your links are obvious.”

Underlined links also avoid a lot of accessibility issues, as color blind or insensitive users can identify them with ease.

Read the full post on UX Booth!

Cassandra is Marketing Lead at Justinmind

4 comments

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  • Do you realize the irony of writing a post on why designers shouldn’t underline links and then all the links to references that you make are themselves, underlined?

  • I realize this is a bit old and potentially outdated, nevertheless, it was one of the first results to come up when I searched for “to underline hyperlinks or not”…or something like that.
    Underlined links or some kind of visual cue are critical at a time when a link can be any color and when people tend to tap, rather than rollover. What’s intended to be a hyperlink can easily be mistaken for a styled headline, or bolded word, outside of a full-blown CTA button.
    It’s important to consider limitations in email browsers as well.