Screen Colors (longish)

Subject: Screen Colors (longish)
From: Scott Herron <sherron -at- HERRON -dot- CTEXT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 8 Nov 1995 11:33:40 EST

Mary Jean Fitzg<erald> (? Sorry, MJ, I didnt keep your original post) recently
asked about onscreen display colors:

MJF>>What do *you* recommend? Should I also consider changing the black

Kat Nagel said she uses black on white (hereafter BOW):
KH>And my on-screen desktop is a nice soft gray. No eyestrain. No
KH>'color-shadows' when I look away from the screen at the real world.

Geoff Hart offered a nice technical explanation:
GH>The sharpness of the letters [with black on white] is the best you
GH>can get on a color monitor since there are no electron
GH>beams to align to form the letters... The contrast between foreground is
GH>also usually higher than with any other colors, since white
GH>forms from the maximum amount of all three colors (RGB) and
GH>black from the minimum.

Susan Gallagher differed:
SG>And, even though most people will tell you that black-on-white looks best to
SG>them, usability studies indicate that, although people feel 'comfortable'
SG>with this combo because that's what they see in hard-copy, the light that
SG>emenates from the white background will cause your eyes to fatigue more
SG>rapidly than a background that emits less light (like grey or black). I _think_ I'm comfortable, but I'm actually fatigued?

My answer to the notion of BOW being too bright is to say that most people in
my experience, whether working in a private office, boilerroom, or mfg plant
have the brightness control set up too high. If you can see the diff between
black screen bkgrnd and the black unilluminated portions of the screen, it's
too bright. Sometimes, like Kat, I use light grey or yellow (think "resume")
but nothing more exciting that this.

(On this score, I also recommend looking away from the screen once
in a while, especially if you wear contact lenses. Regardless of color, the
monitor will hypnotise you, and you wont blink often enough.)

SG>One of the most soothing and easily readable combinations I used was lt cyan
SG>on dk blue -- another was lt cyan on dk magenta.

If that's _your choice_, fine. I say "yuck!" If someone came to CText and told
me that _I_ should change because _I_ would be more productive, I'd at least
have to point out that these studies tend to be oriented toward warning signs
and such, not something you are going to stare at for 8+ hours every day.

SG>Mostly, it depends on how your monitor is set -- I've seen something be
SG>relatively pleasing and easy to read on one screen become totally illegible
SG>on another.

That I'll agree with completely. Another reason to standardise to BOW.

KN>Why do I get the feeling that most screen designs were committed by
KN>four-year-olds playing with their first box of Crayolas(R)?

Right on, Kat! Leave the crazy colors to the... kids that produce the possibly
informative, but barely legible _Wired_.

Here's why I think this is worth the time to discuss. Some of us have input
into user interface (we've got to come up with a better term) design. Ugly
apps, web pages, help screens, and paper docs are being foisted on a horrified
public. Technical writers are walking around with spots before their eyes.

Do we as a group feel strongly about this, can we reach any conclusions, and
can the crayon people and boring old killjoys like myself get along?

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a thread. MJ, if you collected any interesting
and/or provocative replies, I for one would appreciate a summary.

Thanks for your time,


Scott Herron
Senior Documentation Specialist
CText, Inc.
1428 Ellsworth Road
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
sherron -at- ctext -dot- com

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