Why are links blue and usually underlined? Is it because blue is a symbol of trust? Or is it because blue is the least impactful on people with vision impairments? Spoiler Alert: The answer isn’t actually that exciting, but the lesson behind it is really important.
Ted Nelson is the famed technologist who created “hypertext” in the 1960s. Hypertext allowed for documents to be linked together. Imagine the joy of clicking a footnote and jumping directly to the appendix without flipping pages or scrolling back and forth. It sounds boring now, but it was revolutionary at the time. Since the monitors at the time were monochromatic, a simple underline was the most efficient way to indicate that a word was special and held a link.
In the early 1990s, the first color screens were introduced. Tim Berners-Lee wanted to make links standout so he started playing with colors for them in the earliest web browsers. Originally he preferred green, but ultimately he settled on blue. To the best of his memory, he thinks blue “won” because as the darkest color, it would threaten legibility the least.
Today, with the knowledge we now have, people will point out the facts mentioned at the beginning of this post – how blue is psychologically indicative of trust and responsibility, possibly signaling users that it was OK to click a link, or how people with color vision issues struggle on average the most with red and green but the least with blue, making it the most user friendly bet. While true today, these are all just convenient consequences.
In real time, our jobs are a mix of creativity, skill, talent, and luck. In hindsight, the stories get much more intricate. Real-time is made up of monochromatic newspaper headlines and journalistic reels, while hindsight is Peter Jackson’s colorized WWI documentary. Nelson and Berners-Lee are computing superheroes now, but they were just really smart guys working on fancy calculators all those years ago.
Most of us aren’t working on anything like hypertext in the 1960s, but all of us are working on things that might be remembered. Not in how they changed the world, but in what we did, how we handled a situation or solved a problem. Our creativity, skill, and talent shape our ability to make those seemingly minor moves. Luck is going to take care of the rest.
Berners-Lee picked blue for links because it worked. We will all do something today because it works. If we focus our creativity, skill, and talent onto interesting problems, down the road who knows what will happen? If, on the other hand, we don’t approach tasks creatively, or invest in our skills or talents, or find interesting problems, no amount of luck is going to save us.
There’s a seemingly simple and mundane task at hand right now, put some creativity, skill, and talent into it. Who knows how it will be remembered.