Can light gray text on light gray backgrounds please stop being a thing?

Exhibit A: the unfathomably unreadable new look in macOS 11.x. It was already bad in 10.x but they made it worse.

Exhibit B: This is what happens when you go to System Preferences / Accessibility and check "Increase contrast". It just puts thin black borders around everything.

Exhibit C: This is what happens when you move the "Display contrast" slider two ticks up from "Normal" to "Maximum". It makes it so much worse that I wonder if someone implemented the slider backwards and QA didn't notice.

"Dark mode" is just as bad, it all ends up being dark gray on dark gray instead.

Fucking Apple.

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23 Responses:

  1. Carlos says:

    It's not just Apple. UI designers, web designers, etc are in general young people with fantastic (relatively) vision and tiny-text, low-contrast colour schemes are one of the banes of my existence.

    It's kind of sad that Apple has fallen into this, though. They used to have at least a few reasonable adults in the UI/testing department who kept things usable.


    • JeR says:

      It's not just UI designers, web designers, etc. The displays and test environments they use are highly optimised, unlike real world displays and environments where, say, sunlight and artificial lighting determine what our eyes are adjusting to, which may not be the displays we try to focus on at any specific time.

    • jwz says:

      It's really pretty impressive how the so-called "Accessiblity" panel does everything literally the-opposite-of-right.

    • saxmaniac says:

      Apple (and all companies that existed pre-web) learned it from web “designers” who don’t read the fucking articles - they stand back a few feet from the screen, blur heir eyes, then look at the overall “flow” of the site, to make sure it’s not “blobby” or “patchy”. (Those are code words for “useful” and “data”.)

      They A/B and find which drives more “engagement” because it takes 10x longer to do anything. Success!

      Then they fire all the competent user interface designers, and replace them with puppy-mill US kids from science-free ridiculously expensive liberal arts colleges, or, Third World immigrants trying to copy such people.

      Fuck reading, fuck understanding, fuck scrolling.

      There must be a corollary to hammer/nail thing: Everything is Loren, Ipsum if you don’t know how to read.

      This, by the way, only tangentially related to getting old. This was very annoying long before my eyesight started to go.

      • margaret says:

        ...and replace them with puppy-mill US kids from science-free ridiculously expensive liberal arts colleges...

        reed college is one such SFRELAC they hire wannabe designers from. dropouts even. everyone knows places like MIT and CALTECH churn out the best designers.

        • margaret says:

          (and i of course forgot all about MIT's media lab - no disrespect intended!)

    • EricE says:


      The US Digital Web Design System has one of the best discussions of color and accessibility I have seen:

      I constantly challenge designers to give me their magic numbers on projects I'm involved in. I've even managed to get a few of them to improve things - ha!

  2. Zygo says:

    Is this the same Apple that decided to reverse trackpad scroll direction one day? Maybe the slider is backwards. What does "minimum" look like? Maybe "Maximum" is meant to indicate that your display has the highest contrast, and you want to tone down the outgoing pixels?

    The third panel is so awful I have to tilt my display at odd angles so I can see that there is text at all. Reading it is...well, not that hard--but only because I already know what the text is.

    When I was young and my vision was fantastic, I used 0%/black and 100%/white for text, because all things being equal, I could read more text faster with those colors than any others. This enabled me to the next smaller, turn the brightness down, or just inhale more of it per reading second before the text fell out of the range of legibility. Any other colors were always strictly worse, and have always been always strictly worse.

    I'm pretty sure the corollary is that modern UI designers don't read.

    • saxmaniac says:

      Hahaha, posted the exact same thing even before reading your comment. Cheers!

    • Andrew Klossner says:

      When I was younger, I used 0%/black and 100%/green for text. Because white pixels were created by three electron guns aiming for the same spot, and on many parts of the screen they didn't converge and the white text was fuzzy.

      When I was even younger, CRTs had one gun and one color phosphor. Pay your money and take your choice of white, green, or amber. Brightness and contrast were controlled by rotary dials.

      When I was a kid, TTYs offered good contrast when the typewriter ribbon was new.

  3. Berend says:

    I've had a Gnome UI guy explain that with current themes/UI the thinking is to reduce noise, so everything becomes flat, grey, and the same.

    I'm not sure that he understood the difference between signal and noise.

  4. kwk says:

    "It's the wild colour scheme that freaks me. Every time you try to operate one of these weird light grey controls that are labelled in light grey on a light grey background, a little light grey light lights up light grey to let you know you've done it."

  5. Ovid says:

    We developed a free sci-fi MMORPG and one of our early hires was a front-end designer who is passionate about accessibility. It impacts everything we do. I was shocked at the amount of work it takes to get it right in both browser and mobile and it would get frustrating to have work kicked back constantly. But now, if you're blind, or just have poor vision, or limited mobility, you can enjoy the game as much as anyone else. It cost us more money and takes longer to develop, but the satisfaction is wonderful.

    People are horrified when face recognition software doesn't work for black people. But if your software doesn't work for blind people or people with limited mobility, no one cares. People shrug it off as if your minority status must cross a certain threshold before you're worth caring about.

  6. Michael V. says:

    I've found this has become a problem off-screen as well. I'm a musician and a computer professional, so over the years I've acquired an imperial shitton of AC power adapters. It's nearly impossible to keep track of what original power supply came with which peripheral, so often, I depend upon the power output listed on the adapter.

    Somewhere in the last five years, some genius industrial designers decided that actually being able to read that information was unnecessary. It's almost always in light gray text on white (or, weirdly, dark brown text on black) and so microscopically small that it's impossible to read even with a lighted magnifier.

    I know I'm not the springiest chicken, but I would gamble that someone with 20/20 vision couldn't read these things.

  7. Nick Lamb says:

    We had a problem with Microsoft's Entity Framework (no, me neither) in which it didn't work and although there's output showing it hasn't worked it gave us no useful information as to why.

    So, my colleague says try --verbose, and although it's a Microsoft product I humored him by trying it.

    The same exact output. Except, there are a few lines of blank space between the output lines we got before.

    Huh. So, Microsoft actually has heard of --verbose but, they figure blank lines constitutes verbosity?

    Colleague says "Maybe the text is black?" (my terminal background is black, don't judge me) and since humoring him last time paid off I feel honor bound to show him that no, they're just empty lines, so I highlight them...

    The text is in fact black. Black on black text is how Microsoft thinks "Verbose" error messages should work. Why?

    The worst thing is, once I could read what it said the verbose output was actually useful and enabled us to diagnose the problem.

  8. Ryan Farmer says:

    "I wonder if someone implemented the slider backwards and QA didn't notice."

    Why not? That's how Apple's "Natural" Scrolling works. They probably got a nice patent on being irritating while they were at it.

    With GNOME Tweaks, you could even make GNOME scroll backwards too, if you like.

  9. bq Mackintosh says:

    So I'm late to the comment thread, but somebody's gotta say this: the whole the-problem-with-design-is-designers argument is really old, and really really dumb. The problem isn't professional designers; the problem is god-awful design choices.

    Honestly, this is the last place I'd expect to find a screed against expertise as a whole.

    • jwz says:

      Well obviously the point is that so-called "expertise" is not the same as competence, and the latter is not on display here. If this is what passes for expertise in the UI designer community, I'm not impressed.

      • bq Mackintosh says:

        My objection isn't to the well deserved kneecapping of this kind of UI design ineptitude. Low-contrast, unreadable text is an unambiguous blunder and whatever procedural sloppiness allowed this to see the light of the day should be swiftly and mercilessly edited out of existence. And at least in my corner of the UI design profession, this doesn't pass for competence; it gets the contempt it deserves. I like me some quality intolerance of mediocrity.

        My objection is to the truncated syllogism that emerged right off the bat in the comments, casually conflating a god-awful UI with the design profession in general. If folks are going to complain about mediocrity, it had better be a high quality, intellectually sound complaint. Otherwise it just reads like someone talking about how they worked with this professional once who was an idiot, and that's why nobody should trust professionals.