Background Colors

Subject: Background Colors
From: Melissa Hunter-Kilmer <mhunterk -at- BNA -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 1997 10:16:47 EST

On Fri, 1 Aug 1997, "Molis, Debbie" <Debbie_Molis -at- FREDDIEMAC -dot- COM>

> Please excuse me if this topic has been addressed at an earlier
time. At the moment, I can't review the archives.

It has, but that isn't a problem. Everything is cyclic. At
least you didn't post the Dr. Seuss/TW thing!

> I was wondering if anyone working on presentations has a
preferance for background colors, and perhaps text colors as
well. I'm modifying a presentation that has a black background,
and it's not very lively looking.

Others have posted their preferences, but I think what you really
need to consider is people's actual tolerances. All this comes
from others' research, BTW. I stand on the shoulders of giants.

When we were developing an app a few years back, the developers
were going hogwild using all the color combinations they possibly
could -- chartreuse on lavender and other tasteful, easy-to-read
choices. Some of their works of art were really hard for me to
read, and my vision is pretty darned good, as is my ability to
distinguish colors.

If it was hard for me, how much harder must it have been for
colorblind users? Those who are colorblind need to be able to
work as efficiently as those who can distinguish all colors. Of
the adult male population, 8 percent has some degree of
colorblindness; 0.4 percent of the adult female population is
colorblind. That's a _lot_ of users.

In my research, I found that it's best to use color as an extra
rather than an essential. There are several reasons for this:
colorblindness, ambient light, and the availability of color
monitors. You really don't want people to miss the point of your
presentation because they can't distinguish colors.

The best _backgrounds_ for screens are blue and black. The eye
is not sensitive to blue, which tends to recede. This makes it an
ideal background color and a bad foreground color. If you want,
you can use more than one shade of blue as a background color.
Brown is very bad as a background color.

White and yellow are considered to be very good _foreground_
colors. Bright white catches the eye more than off-white, bright
yellow more than dull yellow -- but they're all good. Blue is a
terrible foreground color -- if you have to say anything
important, don't say it with blue letters!

Whatever you use, make sure the foreground contrasts with the
background. Don't use blue/gray or blue/red combinations. Be
sensitive to color intensity -- a medium green on a medium blue
background will be hard to read, too. A red/green combination
may seem high in contrast to you, but a colorblind user might
have trouble with it. (Besides, those are complementary colors
and they hurt the eyes!)

Don't use too many colors, or the user will get confused. It's
good to use no more than ten colors, and it's even better to use
no more than four.

Some colors carry inherent messages that should be heeded. For
example, green means go, so error messages shouldn't appear in
green or users might become confused.

To sum up:

Best color combinations
-- yellow on blue
-- white on blue
-- black on cyan
-- yellow on black
-- white on black
-- black on white

Acceptable color combinations
-- black on light green
-- black on gray
-- black on yellow
-- black on white
-- black on cyan
-- black on bright green
-- green on black
-- red on white
-- white on red

Hope this helps!

Melissa Hunter-Kilmer
mhunterk -at- bna -dot- com
(standard disclaimer)

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