Many years ago, at one of the W3C meetings in a Boston hotel, Tim and I were waiting for an elevator to arrive and I chanced to ask him a question one of my sons had asked me some weeks before: “why are hyperlinks blue?” It wasn’t the amazing answer I expected. He just shrugged and said (paraphrasing): “I only had a few colours on the palette and needed one that looked OK amongst the black text and the window’s grey background, and so I picked the blue. No real reason, I suppose.” He smiled in a way that was almost apologetic for such a meek answer, but the truth is the truth. He just picked it because it looked OK next to black and grey.

Of course, it was quite a good choice (ask any colour-blind person) and remains the default today. In fact, blue seems to be incredibly popular as a screen colour, and if you pay attention you’d be surprised just how much of it there is.

At this moment I am editing on a Windows machine, which has a blue-themed login screen. The taskbar at the bottom of the screen is blue. The chrome of the current window is blue, as is the highlighted button on the editor screen.

What got me thinking about all this blue was the set of buttons on my tablet. These are essentially the logos of various tech companies, and all of the icons were shades of blue (including cyan). They include: LinkedIn, Google, Skype, Twitter and many more. Could this be colour psychology at work, with blue being perceived to represent stability and trustworthyness, or have the tech companies been influenced by Tim’s decision? After all, the tech people would have been influenced by the excitement of following those blue links.

Tim’s first computer for the Web on which he selected the blue text was a NeXT Cube, from the company founded by Steve Jobs, who famously headed Apple, whose “colours” are primarily: grey and white. Definitely not blue.

Categorised as: Technology, Web

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