To Underline or Not to Underline

Yesterday I mentioned at post by Dennis Lembree at WebAxe called Keep the Underline. Dennis talked about when an underline is a UX necessity. Here is his main point, with which I heartily agree:

You want an accessible, usable website? Then please don’t remove the underline on text links, particularly in the main content. Unfortunately this design trend continues on the web (and the same could be said about those awful form input labels that act like placeholders, ugh).


Why? For accessibility, users with color blindness or low vision may have trouble distinguishing links from regular text when the underline is missing. Also remember situational disability; links with no underline are usually more difficult to determine when using a poor monitor or when using a computer in a brightly lit environment.

Since I work with beginners, I often have the opposite problem. They want to underline things that should not be underlined.

Here’s the point for underline-happy beginners. An underline on a web page has a very specific meaning. It indicates a clickable link. When something is underlined for emphasis (or whatever reason exists in the creator’s mind) it confuses users because they expect it to be a link. Users may attempt to click on underlined words and – when nothing happens – the user will think your page doesn’t work. Users don’t understand what you’re doing and whatever you are trying to say gets fuzzed in meaning.

The user is lost, and your content will be abandoned because it doesn’t make sense in terms of web pages.

When you have links in the context of a paragraph, heading, list or anywhere outside an obvious nav bar, use the underline. But don’t underline anything that is not a link.

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