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Is it of good UX practice to reduce the contrast of the footer and some other elements on newsletters and websites?

In this first example, the contrast of the footer in a newsletter is reduced, I guess to make the page "lighter".

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In this second example, brainpickings.org reduces the contrast of its "favorite pickings" column (on the left side).

enter image description here

I would bet this affects usability. On the other side, I can imagine that the intention in these cases was to reduce noise.

Is this good practice? Are there any tests results available?

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2 Answers

What you are asking about isn't "opacity" (although it looks like a reduced opacity text on a white background). It is actually a function of contrast.

In photography and visual design, one of the fundamental ideas is that things with strong contrast draw attention. Things with weak contrast are easier to ignore. It takes less cognitive effort to focus attention to high contrast areas. In your example, the dark text on a light background with strong visuals draws attention and requires little effort to maintain attention. The footer area, however, is secondary or even tertiary information and does not demand as much attention. By reducing the contrast, it will be reserved for those individuals that exert effort to find something. The cognitive load for these individuals is already elevated, so the weak contrast reinforces that information.

Take a look at:

http://sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/visual-weight-designs/

http://www.usabilitypost.com/2008/08/14/using-light-color-and-contrast-effectively-in-ui-design/

http://graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/23/how-to-draw-attention-to-a-specific-area-of-a-design

http://www.spectrumphotographytips.com/12-elements-of-composition-in-photography-part-1.html

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Yes, I was actually talking about contrast (and not opacity). Thank you for pointing it out and thank you for the great answer! I edited the question. –  Alexis Brion Dec 5 '12 at 16:17
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Of course the real point here was to reduce the visual weight; lower contrast is a way to do that, but I'd avoid extremely low contrast like the first example in the question. As your links point out, there are plenty of other ways to reduce visual weight –  Ben Brocka Dec 5 '12 at 16:23
    
@BenBrocka Yes, I wasn't sure how much detail to get into. It seemed like the OP didn't have a lot of original research and putting him on the path of contrast seemed sufficient. –  mawcsco Dec 5 '12 at 17:03
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I don't know about pundit's opinion or specific studies.

IMAO,in short, it IS good practice if it used proper place & intensity.

In long,

  • it's a essential for a site which is intended for reading; i.e. web-magazines, forums, news etc. nowadays, most sites are so cluttered that it becomes tough to understand what the main content is. while user have selected a content to read, making other staffs translucent will be very comfortable.
  • It also helps user to focus on content; otherwise user-satisfaction definitely gets hurt. may be user wont complain, but sub-consciously his satisfaction will hurt.
  • For sites of video-watching e.g. youtube, if it were properly utilized the total experience would be much greater.

    Also, level of opacity is a great matter of concern so that user dont feel lost from the overall flow.

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