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.
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.
Prototype interactive links in Justinmind. Download now.
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.