Hyperlinks in print

An interesting beginning to Patrick Burgoyne’s editorial in this month’s Creative Review:

Looking through this month’s issue, the sharp-eyed amongst you may notice a few words underlined in red like this … They are simply devices to indicate links in E-CR, the Digital Version of Creative Review.

Usually, web design follows print design. We still see many fixed dimension layouts online, while many other website designs make a reference to paper and the physical world (my own site being an example of this). It is interesting, then, to see the reverse happen: print design being informed by web-design. In Creative Review we see the humble ‘underline’ evolve from something to denote emphasis, into something to denote more information elsewhere.

As it happens, I’m not sure whether this particular quirk will survive. I’ve noticed that many contemporary websites choose not to underline their links, favouring a change of colour instead. Colouring a word blue, the usual default for links, may ultimately be understood by more people. I once heard of a system – invented I think by Wassily Kandinsky – whereby different colours denoted different meanings in text. In the twenty-first century this idea may be realised. However, his idea was that the different colours denoted emotions, not meta-information. Either way, if a colour-based standard was adopted, the Accessibility lobby would hate it – What about the colour-blind?

As we emigrate to the multimedia world, we must learn (and indeed invent) new symbols, as part of a global language. The play, pause, record and stop symbols have been well understood since the Walkman first hit the streets. We had to wait for CDs before the ‘skip forward’ and ‘skip backward’ symbols also became ubiquitous. The drive to standardize the symbol for syndicated content (for example, RSS) is already underway.

At the same time, other symbols fall out of use. Why bother with numbered annotations, as many websites still do, when a hyperlink will more than suffice?

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