Elements or Lower

Mon, 10 May 2004

Web Safe Colours

Todd Dominey writes about the creation of his Scribe theme for the new-look Blogger. It’s always fascinating to read about the design process — the inspiration, the decision-making, and the technical resolution.

But of particular interest to me was Todd’s comment that:

On most screens it looks balanced with a pleasant level of contrast, while on others it looks a little muddy. But that’s the nature of using a non web-safe, limited color palette with a delicate visual balance.

Well, I’d like to write in support of non web-safe colour palettes and delicate visual balances. The accepted wisdom that a design must rigidly adhere to the strict limitations of the web-safe palette strikes me as unnecessary and outdated. I’m not sure what the statistic is for the percentage of people browsing in only 256 colours, but I suspect that it isn’t an overwhelming majority. A sizable number of the colours in the web-safe palette are garish and frankly unusable. Why not accept that times have moved on, and that it’s now acceptable to use subtler hues and gentler transitions?

To my mind, it’s another aspect of keeping a site accessible. Now, I’m aware that it might seem as if those two arguments are contradictory, but let’s briefly run through the ideals of accessible visual design:

This last is accessibility in a nutshell, as far as I’m concerned. So what if a subtle shade of cream I’ve used turns out grey in 256 colours, or is dithered? It’s not as pretty and it’s not how I intended the design to look — but it’s still perfectly accessible. If I were to pick a text colour and background colour that rendered to the same shade in 256 colours, I’d have used too damn low a contrast anyway. If a pattern of dithering made the text hard to read, chances are the text would be too small.

For my money, Scribe looks completely lovely. Hurrah for using colours that look good, and knickers to their ‘safety’.