When it comes to text link hovers, some prefer underlined links while others prefer color shifts. Typically, friends of mine who also work in the creative field generally prefer color shifts rather than underlined links. Mainly, underlined links lost its charm to color shifts because they ultimately “looked too messy.” Then there’s the Google approach, which uses an ever-present blue link and underline that’s the default for many browsers. So in the world of web design, does underlined links or color links make for best usability practices?
Part of designing a successful user experience is to eliminate confusion, to simplify readability and to cater to the user’s needs. Some users have vision disabilities and have difficulty reading text with low contrast. Links that are styled too similarly to the body copy aren’t easily seen. Underlining links on hover, or having the links underlined all the time, makes it immediately clear that the text is a link. It may not necessarily be subtle, but it’s courteous and most users end up finding links a lot quicker.
This isn’t to say that I recommend keeping all links blue and underlined at all times. Instead, links should be styled so that they’re clearly and consistently showing up as, well, links and that’s regardless of whether an underline is used or not. Keep in mind that some users can’t view certain colors so color shifting isn’t always the best approach.
With all that said, what is the best approach to styling links? As mentioned above, the best way to style links is by making sure they’re styled differently and consistently from the body copy. Another thing to consider? Keep the underline on hover. This will erase any room for ambiguity and will quickly allow users the ability to tell whether something’s a link or merely just text. The icing on the cake? The site will achieve maximum usability by catering to those with vision impairments.
As with any usability best practices, the way a site works and functions should always take precedence over the way a site looks. After all, the web is a collection of useful and usable tools and websites are no exception.