There’s no gray area when it comes to readability

Karen Zapp, unlike certain other bloggers, is not the ranting type. But she went on a tear the other day about gray type at The Most Popular and Favorite Color that Hurts Fundraising.

Gray type is a problem in fundraising. As Karen says:

Why in the world do you want to make something harder to read? This is the exact opposite of what smart fundraisers, membership directors, and marketers do. Making it harder lowers response. It reduces your conversions. It does not cultivate your relationships with supporters. It’s a MAD-MAD-MAD World that uses gray font in any communication of importance.

She’s right. Gray type is a design fad these days. It’s thought to look tasteful. And if you use it, you are choosing to have your copy less read and less comprehended.

Darkenme

And guess what: Every color other than black is hard to read in text sizes. If you want people to read what you’ve written, use black type. And while you’re thinking about readability, put that black type over a white background — any background tint that’s darker than 5% seriously impedes readability. And stick to serif fonts, except online, where sans-serif fonts are easier to read.

This is unpopular advice among brand shamans and some designers — folks who have mystical beliefs that you can communicate specific information through the way design makes people feel, even at the expense of being able to read the copy.

It doesn’t work that way. If people are going to respond in some specific way (like give a gift), they’re going to need to be motivated in a specific way, through specific actual words they can read. Good design supports that motivation because of the way it feels. But you’ve defeated yourself if the design makes the copy unreadable.

So lose the gray. And the blue. And all those other tasteful, brand-mandated text colors. Go with black.


Comments

6 responses to “There’s no gray area when it comes to readability”

  1. So, let me get this straight. All of our appeals should be black type on a white background with 12 point serif font. Sounds to me like everything could be done in-house by the non-profit’s staff.
    Cool.

  2. So, let me get this straight. All of our appeals should be black type on a white background with 12 point serif font. Sounds to me like everything could be done in-house by the non-profit’s staff.
    Cool.

  3. Why serif font for print materials? I am definitely one of those “haters” who hates Times New Roman & thinks it lacks creativity.
    Maybe you can change my mind…

  4. Why serif font for print materials? I am definitely one of those “haters” who hates Times New Roman & thinks it lacks creativity.
    Maybe you can change my mind…

  5. Why is this website’s font gray then?
    It’s RGB value is 51,51,51.

  6. Why is this website’s font gray then?
    It’s RGB value is 51,51,51.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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