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I've always gone by the rule that red text should only be used in displaying error messages. Can anyone show me any usability blog/book excerpts that prove or disprove this rule? What are your own personal standards for the use of red?

I see that this UI StackExchange site does a pretty slick job of using red text without making it loud or obtrusive. I still can't justify it in my own app development work.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Short answer: Yes. But I can't find any material to back that up specific to interaction with software.

The color red can be one attribute in denoting an error, but should never be the sole attribute (unless you hate colorblind people, in which case: stop designing software). The point of an error message is that it should be visible, explicit, human-readable, polite, precise and offer constructive advice. None of those state that it should be red. You can make it green or yellow, as long as it's clear that there's an error happening.

That said, we should take user expectation based on years of red error text into account. Although red text in and of itself doesn't signify an error, it can help "draw the eye" similarly to how big square blocks of roughly 200 pixels square get ignored because users have trained themselves to ignore ads of comparable size.

Additionally, I found an interesting article at KISSmetrics called How do colors affect purchases?, which has nothing to do with red error text but does show a bit of the relationship between psychology and decisions about color.

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All types of colorblind people can tell red from black, AFAIK. –  OverMachoGrande Sep 1 '10 at 22:42
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Red from black yes, but you don't always have red vs black, so you should just stay away from denoting errors ONLY with red. It's just a good rule of thumb. YMMV. –  Rahul Sep 1 '10 at 22:49

A lot of good answers here, especially from @Rahul. I would add that it also depends on the color palette of the rest of the UI.

If the following sites were banned from red (except to display errors) that would be really odd.

Following that logic, we should also reserve green for confirmation messages. Leaving 1/3 of the primary/secondary colors out of use for anything besides notifications.

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Yes you can use red text for other purposes besides error messages, but keep in mind that red is a signal color.
+ You can use red whenever you need to attract special attention.
- You should not use red color for "normal" text.

Example:
If a website/intranet has a system-wide outage planned and you need to make sure that users are aware of it. This is not an error, but the message is just as important.

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There have been many times I've used red for things I felt were important, but not necessarily errors. The user almost always comes back asking for a change.

I've found for informational, but important things Orange works pretty well. The user seems to relate that to warning rather than errors.

Personally, I don't care, but that's the response I usually get from users.

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I'm using red-ish texts for important messages (like system load is too high for example). I prefer using #800, and not "pure" red. Also, when you have a long list of items, using red works better to highlight things than bold for example.

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