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May 31, 2005 08:45 PM

Broken: Things that need to STOP

PhilipsFrom my Good Experience newsletter, here's my latest column: Things that need to STOP.

1. Cell phones that make a noise when they power down
2. Requiring a password to check voice mail from one's own phone
3. The increasing use of light-gray-on-white text by hip website "designers"

Case in point for #3, the attached image shows the Philips homepage. The new Philips slogan is "sense and simplicity", and what says simplicity more than light grey text on a white background? I don't get it. Is black text too complicated for users? If so, let's start reprinting all the books in all the libraries across the world - not to mention newspapers, flyers, bills,... gray text rules!  -mh


White on gray means more whitish color which means more white. White usually means clean and simple, so theyre trying to look simple. I dont see whats wrong....

Posted by: Jon at May 31, 2005 09:35 PM

Without password verfication, can't Caller ID spoofers get access to your voice mail?

Posted by: Keith "Nugent" Barber at May 31, 2005 09:41 PM

Not broken.

Posted by: JP at May 31, 2005 09:44 PM

Yeah, isn't that no password on voicemail issue what allowed that one guy to get some celebrity's voice mail? They have those caller ID spoofing services now, and the nopass voicemail systems were fooled.

Posted by: Maurs at May 31, 2005 10:11 PM

I agree with all the comments.

But I also agree that things making noise when they shut down is rather annoying. It happens to me all the time. I shut my cell phone off in class, and it makes a noise...

You see the problem.

Posted by: a cheesepuff at May 31, 2005 10:14 PM

You can usually modify the voice mail number in your cell phone to automatically enter your password.

Along the lines of changing




The syntax tends to differ between manufacturers, though, so check your manual.

Posted by: scotfl at May 31, 2005 10:34 PM

I set my cell phone ot not make a noise when I turn it off. It does that by default, but you can change it in the settings. It's very simple to do. Maybe you are broken for not playing with your phone's settings. :)

Posted by: random at May 31, 2005 10:36 PM

I think that the grey text looks rather pretty- not as dull as black. But that's just my opinion.

Posted by: Contra at May 31, 2005 11:08 PM

I like having the option of having a shut down sound, as long as the phone does not play one by default, it's nice having the power to enable one. Mine is the hulk's closing credits, as bill bixbie is walking off in the distance. -- GEEK --

I also think having a password on your phone is a good idea, since I've lost mine on a few occassions, and I was happy they couldn't access my voicemail.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 1, 2005 12:20 AM

Yeah gray text is not a visual distraction.

They are used for secondary elements that do not require constant or immediate focus.

This message brought to you by ok.

Posted by: ok at June 1, 2005 12:23 AM

Oh geez, my old cell phone made a loud zooming sound when it shut off and when it came on, and I couldn't change that! It drove me nuts!

Posted by: Nick at June 1, 2005 12:24 AM

All of the following must stop. I want to throttle web page "designers" who do any of these:

Specify CSS font sizes in pixels, not points, which means I can't change the font size with the normal IE commands.

Specify really tiny font sizes, which coupled with the above CSS goof, makes text totally unreadable. See anything on for a good (or horrible) example of this.

Use graphics everywhere to show text, which again are at a fixed size.

Don't do anything to distinguish links from regular text.

Display a long passage of text (such as an article) in a fixed-width table, which is usually something silly like 300 px wide. The remaining 900 px on my monitor go unused.

Use really crappy color combos like blue-on-blue (again,

Posted by: Jacques Troux at June 1, 2005 12:29 AM

Some of us from other planets prefer less contrast, y'know. The popular spectrum here totally GRATES my optical cones. There's simply too much difference in everything. We laud the inventors of pale beige and grey on white. Less distinction is more.

Posted by: gkzzlorp at June 1, 2005 01:04 AM

Instead of just decididing that gray text on white is broken, what do the surveys say? I actually find the screenshot quite comforting and easy to read--in fact, it may even force me to slow down and concentrate more.

I also don't find cellphone power-down beeps that annoying, especially when a phone dies involuntarily. This tells me I need to charge up. They are unnecessary when I manually switch off my phone.

Posted by: Robby Slaughter at June 1, 2005 01:21 AM

yeah, it ain't so bad at least not as bad as a wet tile saw telling me not to use it in a damp location

Posted by: hfhhfhg at June 1, 2005 08:01 AM

While the grey on white may be attractive and easy to read to most people, there are those such as myself, who find it difficult to read. Because of an eye defect, I need the contrast to have an easier time reading what I'm seeing. It is a problem that is not easily fixed by an eye doctor as my vision changes from day to day. Words and letters tend to distort and white on grey aggravates the problem. That being said, I feel as if a professional website should take those things into consideration when designing their webpages, especially for those whose job revolves around the internet.

Posted by: Kris at June 1, 2005 08:11 AM

Dark gray on white has tested well in my experience. Black often has so much contrast on an LCD monitor that it gets vibration. Many users have preferred dark gray (333333) to black. I'm not advocating light gray on white, however.

(By the way, using your argument, Mark, you should not have used a tan background for TIB, since that reduces contrast compared to a white background.)

The only reason I can see for the cellphone shutdown noise is for the visually impaired so they know their phones are off. It should be an option.

I was surprised to learn that PCs still make a shutdown noise, and a kind of annoying one at that. The Mac doesn't do that anymore, and it's nice to just shut down silently during a meeting or in a conference or whatnot.

Finally, to the poster who asked that we use expanding columns of text rather than fixed-width, this is a hotly debated topic. I've come to the conclusion that for long columns of text, fixed is better, because it improves word wrap and improves eye-tracking from line-to-line, the same as in the print world. User tests I've been party to have shown this to be a preference. Really wide columns of text, in any medium, are just plain hard to read. And, yes, it does mean some of your 'screen real estate' isn't getting used. Good thing it's free, right?

Posted by: MIchael McWatters at June 1, 2005 08:33 AM

oooh Jacques Troux hit the nail on the head with this one:

Display a long passage of text (such as an article) in a fixed-width table, which is usually something silly like 300 px wide. The remaining 900 px on my monitor go unused.

I really hate news sites that use only 1/3 of my screen. Dark gray text is fine, and cell phones need not make a shutdown noise, there is no purpose for it.

Posted by: Vic at June 1, 2005 08:39 AM

Perhaps I should have made the distinction between shades of grey in my post, It is the light grey that bothers me to read, such as in the sample provided, I don't know if I've come across dark grey text, possibly I have and it didn't bother me so I didn't make note of it. I do see increasingly more sights using light shades of fonts such as beige and dreadfully, yellow. If it is not necessary for me to read the article in that case, I will usually skip it.

Since I didn't elaborate before, cell phone shut down noise should be an option and I don't pay that much attention to fixed font and pixels. As long as I can read it, how much of my screen it uses doesn't bother me much.

Posted by: Kris at June 1, 2005 12:58 PM

Hey MH! I like gray-on-white text! the back of the Shuffle case in point. Gray on white is like... cool or something. Anyway, it looks nice. So go away.

but ughhhh, i totally agree with you on the cell phone one. who needs a shutdown noise? also, i can't set my ringer to just vibrate, i.e. turn off the sound, so i just have to put it on the lowest setting, whch is still eleven compared to a quiet room.

Posted by: Bob at June 1, 2005 01:24 PM

I just have to say that the Phillips website is MUCH more pleasing to the eye than most websites, this one included.

Posted by: mike at June 1, 2005 02:21 PM

I have to agree with the Grey-on-White being good. If the text is large enough, it is very easy on the eyes and gives a blending feel. It also gives the particular header the feeling of being important without it being intrusive.

Posted by: J. B. Baker at June 1, 2005 02:32 PM

Agreed on items 1 and 3. Disagree on item 2. Although passwords are weak security at best, they're slightly better than none at all since they will deter the casual interloper.

Posted by: Steve at June 1, 2005 02:49 PM


Posted by: kjhg at June 1, 2005 03:36 PM

maybe on yours, kjhg, but some of us aren't as lucky. i.e. our phones were designed in mental asylums.

Posted by: Bob at June 1, 2005 04:22 PM

What does -mh mean???

Posted by: DUMB! at June 1, 2005 04:43 PM

> What does -mh mean???

MH = Mark Hurst, or the guy that made the website.

Posted by: Shadow at June 1, 2005 05:38 PM

I agree it's broken. If I can't read your text, why do you have a website?

Here's the same screenshot w/ a little adjustment on the text to make it blacker.

A little better, no?

Posted by: Phillip Harrington at June 1, 2005 06:58 PM


Posted by: at June 1, 2005 09:34 PM

I agree with Mr. Gmail.Com. The letters are certainly darker, but they run together and lose their shape. It makes it a heck of a lot harder to read, in fact.

Posted by: Bob at June 1, 2005 10:26 PM

Yeah, that black text is awful. This post is definitely not broken.

Posted by: Sam at June 1, 2005 10:48 PM

What hapened to pagers? Remember all the complaints about them? NOW cells in resturants, in cars, you get the pic. USE the PAY PHONE. Where applicable of course/.

Posted by: 10 at June 2, 2005 09:06 AM

Things that need to STOP:

After the 500th time or so of answering the same question the same way, my ATM card should store the fact that yes, I always want to proceed in English and skip that question in the future.

Posted by: Rob at June 2, 2005 11:04 AM

If you don't like the look of a site, use a UA that lets you have a user stylesheet and set whatever preferences you want.

On the flip side, designers could specify several stock stylesheets. So we might have ones for: colorblind users, those who like high or low contrast, maximizing screen real estate usage, using a fixed width, etc. Or, you could give the user a customization page, let them turn on or off features, and keep track of their preferences using a cookie (assuming the user accepts them).

One thing that does need to stop is requiring users to have Flash to view a webpage.

Posted by: Jeff at June 2, 2005 01:04 PM

The reason the site designer chose the light grey was to keep the site low contrast and reduce your blink rate. its not just an arbi. trend.. they are attempting to bring psychology more into web design.. the same way supermarkets are designed to keep you in longer. but i guess if u know they are trying to mind screw you, you should complain... its not broken tho.

Posted by: jared at June 3, 2005 08:55 PM

No voicemail password? You want anybody who borrows your phone to listen to your voicemail? I don't.

Posted by: tcfrink at June 6, 2005 12:00 PM

I have a camera that when you turn it ON it makes a stupid default noise. It so annoying. Definitely broken!

Posted by: Kyle at June 7, 2005 10:37 AM

Re:One thing that does need to stop is requiring users to have Flash to view a webpage.

And they should stop making sites that require IE to view them. I can't beleive that people still make them that way.

Opera allows you to turn off style sheets and use a user defined style sheet.

Posted by: patty at June 8, 2005 02:22 PM

The ad got people's attention and that's what the designers are paid to do. Who really reads ads anyway?

I think ALL cellphone tones are annoying. They are a-tonal and NOT music I don't care what song you can get to play on them. It's like the difference between AM and FM radio.

Posted by: Karaoke at June 9, 2005 02:08 AM

I think we're missing something here folks.

Much of design is subjective. That's not to say that there's not good design or bad design, but all told its an art form with very unrigid rules. Personally I'd like to see MORE experimentation with color on the web (whether it be text or other). Unlike print you don't have to pay per color here. I think the web has gotten so.."readability this and user-centric that" that we've forgotten about the fun part of it...the experimentation. Everything seems to have gotten so formal and so templatized and rigid with the introduction of user guidelines and rules. What about the visual and emotional experience, what about the web as a canvas for artists/designers/photographers??? Why does every site have to serve a functional purpose? What about people who are looking to just browse around to find something that gives them an entertaining or emotional "experience" and could care less if its informative or intuitive to use? We seem to have left that group out of the discussion.

Posted by: anydesigner at June 14, 2005 03:46 PM

Oh my. Everyone's got an opinion, don't they. Light gray/white is obviously harder to read. It's more agreeable to look at because the colors agree more but it communicates much less effectively, to be sure. Communication, if it's to matter needs to have something a wee bit of a point and not a wash.

Posted by: glenn at July 18, 2005 01:03 PM

Gray on white is used very often because of the "aesthetic" quality. Gray is softer than black on white. I kind of like how it is softer. Also, it is frequently used on Host User Agreements because it is harder to read. Also broken!

Posted by: Feanor at December 15, 2005 12:50 AM

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