Please Stop Using Grey Text

Andrew Somers on 2022-04-01

For over 1000 years black text on white paper has been the best practice for printed texts worldwide. Since the advent of the web and WCAG 2 contrast specs, we’ve seen websites shift toward a very unreadable light grey text over the last 15 years. It’s time to put an end to this practice.

An examination of design for readability

And before we continue, let’s make it absolutely clear that we have no control of the color of the text in this very article, as it is hosted through, which features poor visual accessibility of their site design.

Further, Medium prevents their users from selecting black text as a choice. While Medium’s “Fischer-Price-simple” content creation is easy to use, it is also extremely limited, and fails in accessibility in areas beyond color. Perhaps this article can serve as a wake up call regarding this issue.

On this TangledWeb publication, we have have tried a number of combinations, including dark mode, and other variations on light mode, but Medium does not permit authors to adjust the colors of text. The irony is not lost on this author.

…this 600 year old relic is more readable than many modern websites…

Gutenberg Bible, Lenox Copy, notice the black text on white paper. New York Public Library, 2009 (Creative Commons)

The War On Reading

The printing press has existed for over a thousand years in China. Nearly 600 years ago in Europe, Gutenberg printed his famous bible using a press with movable type. While the old gothic glyphs are certainly difficult for our modern eye to read, notice in the image above the columns of black text, the columns have a limited width, for easy reading, and the font is a large equivelent of 21 points, or about 28px. (Based on 147mm per 20 lines).

The antique font family aside, this 600 year old relic is more readable than many modern websites. And that is a systemic problem that needs to change.

Intentions Lead the Way…

Fast forward to this beginning of this century: in 2000, the web was still a novelty. Site…