White text on dark background?

12 Mar 2009 - 8:26pm
5 years ago
15 replies
3761 reads
yunlingl@gmail.com
2009

Hi everyone,

There's a debate in our team on whether we should use dark or white
background when displaying texts (say around 200 words).

Not considering the fonts, font size, and color contrast, I found
myself feel more comfortable to read texts on dark background for
longer period time on screen. Some posts I found on web (such as
http://my.opera.com/Vorlath/blog/show.dml/283240) also state print
media and computer screen are different. Computer screen itself
outputs lights and thus white background can be blinding. However,
most of the news site and even the IXDA forum is still using white
background. Is this just a convention or has some scientific reasons
behind it?

-Yun-Ling

Comments

13 Mar 2009 - 3:59am
James Page
2008

I know of no current research but :-

- if the user is in a very bright room, or reading on a iPhone outside,
then white on black becomes unreadable. Go outside with a laptop and try it
out.
- In the 1970's David Ogilvy of the Advertising world fame, did some
experiments with direct response adverts, and found that ads with black on
white text has a 3 times higher response rate than ads with white on black
text, or text on a photo. Details on the test are available in his book
Ogilvy on Advertising.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/3/13 yunlingl @ gmail. com <yunlingl at gmail.com>

> Hi everyone,
>
> There's a debate in our team on whether we should use dark or white
> background when displaying texts (say around 200 words).
>
> Not considering the fonts, font size, and color contrast, I found
> myself feel more comfortable to read texts on dark background for
> longer period time on screen. Some posts I found on web (such as
> http://my.opera.com/Vorlath/blog/show.dml/283240) also state print
> media and computer screen are different. Computer screen itself
> outputs lights and thus white background can be blinding. However,
> most of the news site and even the IXDA forum is still using white
> background. Is this just a convention or has some scientific reasons
> behind it?
>
> -Yun-Ling
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

13 Mar 2009 - 4:41am
Chauncey Wilson
2007

This topic was an area of active research in the 1970s and 1980s with
early monitors. Some of this is reported in classic human factors
textbooks I believe as well as early books on "ergonomics of VDTs (or
VDUs - visual display units). You might also want to look in the
Human Factors and Ergonomics journal database and check on more recent
research in this area.

Chauncey

On Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 9:26 PM, yunlingl @ gmail. com
<yunlingl at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi everyone,
>
> There's a debate in our team on whether we should use dark or white
> background when displaying texts (say around 200 words).
>
> Not considering the fonts, font size, and color contrast, I found
> myself feel more comfortable to read texts on dark background for
> longer period time on screen. Some posts  I found on web (such as
> http://my.opera.com/Vorlath/blog/show.dml/283240) also state print
> media and computer screen are different. Computer screen itself
> outputs lights and thus white background can be blinding. However,
> most of the news site and even the IXDA forum is still using white
> background. Is this just a convention or has some scientific reasons
> behind it?
>
> -Yun-Ling
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

13 Mar 2009 - 5:29am
Anonymous

We've had this debate recently around a set of e-learning content we were involved in creating. It included a style-switcher that flipped between light text on dark background, and dark on light.

The lead designer's original decision was to make light-on-dark the default, and the heat of the resulting controversy surprised us. A lot of people reacted strongly against it, calling it unreadable, and pushed for a dark-on-light default.

Over time, though, the balance of opinion evened out a little, and after a fair bit of digging into relevant research it seemed there just wasn't conclusive support for the readability of one option over the other. It's a matter of opinion (and context).

It's also a matter of convention. My choice, for situations where there's a significant amount of on-screen text, is to use dark-on-light as default, with a light-on-dark style-switcher. Choosing the more common option as default guards against the negative 'first glance' reaction, and those who prefer light-on-dark are more used to having to search for style-switchers or accessibility options to read text the way they want to read it.

13 Mar 2009 - 9:01am
Jesse Zolna
2008

We had the same debate. While I personally think dark on light
non-white (specifically a light blue) is best, we once tested a
design with white on dark blue almost black. users did not have
trouble reading as long as the font was sufficiently large (we had
slight negative reaction to font less than 12 on both mac and pc
laptops) and did not claim it was a problem. These were short text
articles (slightly longer than your 200 words) that were broken up
some by insets and pictures. I believe that a longer or denser block
of text may have seen different results.

Take it for what it is worth, as this was neither a statistically
significant test, nor was it within your specific context.
Essentially, the takeaway is that no, white on black is not a no-no.
(quadruple negative?)

Anecdotaly, I hate the blinding white background of the page I am
typing on right now. Luckily for IxDA the content is so great I will
put up with it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 9:09am
Adrian Howard
2005

On 13 Mar 2009, at 07:01, Jesse wrote:

> We had the same debate. While I personally think dark on light
> non-white (specifically a light blue) is best, we once tested a
> design with white on dark blue almost black. users did not have
> trouble reading as long as the font was sufficiently large (we had
> slight negative reaction to font less than 12 on both mac and pc
> laptops) and did not claim it was a problem. These were short text
> articles (slightly longer than your 200 words) that were broken up
> some by insets and pictures. I believe that a longer or denser block
> of text may have seen different results.

There's also the problem that the expressed user preference may not
actually reflect user performance (if the latter is what you care
about.)

Adrian
--
delicious.com/adrianh - twitter.com/adrianh - adrianh at quietstars.com

13 Mar 2009 - 9:01am
Vance Vagell
2009

Studies have shown that black text on a white background is PERCEIVED
by users as more professional than other color combinations.

This is obviously a subjective assessment, but you can take it into
consideration along with other items such as your site's visual
design, target audience/personas, and so on.

Regards,
Vance

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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13 Mar 2009 - 9:28am
Jesse Zolna
2008

@adrian: true. in our case it was not a performance issue. we were
concerned with people not being able to read or not liking to read,
and not so concerned with reading quickly. That is why I pointed out
that this was not done in the original posters' specific context.
Performance tests are a whole separate study (one that I am have to
believe has been done in the academic arena).

@vance: people definitely perceive dark on white as more
professional, but we were pleased with the completion of that
thought: 'and this seems more entertaining'

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 9:58am
aschechterman
2004

. . . also, a common issue with persons who have vision problems, as such,
Win and OS X (I recall that Firefox has an add-in), to provide the reverse
text option. Third-party software for these visually-impaired users
sometimes does this globally, as well as offering variations on the the
above (grey scale, background stripe guides, etc.). When doing ID and IxD
work with medical patients where this was an important design variable
(e.g., neuralgic, ophthalmologic, endocrine), I almost always honored that
perception is reality. For those UX, it seemed essential per the
"mission-critical" type of hardware and software we were designing . . .
::::

Andrew Schechterman PhD

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/andrewschechterman

E-mail: aschechterman at gmail.com

Phone: 1-303-886-2440

:::::
On Fri, Mar 13, 2009 at 8:28 AM, Jesse <jessezolna at yahoo.com> wrote:

> @adrian: true. in our case it was not a performance issue. we were
> concerned with people not being able to read or not liking to read,
> and not so concerned with reading quickly. That is why I pointed out
> that this was not done in the original posters' specific context.
> Performance tests are a whole separate study (one that I am have to
> believe has been done in the academic arena).
>
> @vance: people definitely perceive dark on white as more
> professional, but we were pleased with the completion of that
> thought: 'and this seems more entertaining'
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

13 Mar 2009 - 10:15am
Janna Cameron
2004

There isn't a combination that is better for all.

The new W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2) recommend that
users can choose their own foreground and background colours.
http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/#visual-audio-contrast-visual-
presentation

I thought this background statement from the W3C provides some interesting
motivation:
"Many users with cognitive disabilities have trouble with standard black
text on a white background. Sometimes, they can read the text a lot better
using different colors for the text and background and sometimes these color
combinations are very specific and not what would be expected by someone
else (for instance brown on blue)."

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of
yunlingl at gmail.com
Sent: Thursday, March 12, 2009 6:26 PM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] White text on dark background?

Hi everyone,

There's a debate in our team on whether we should use dark or white
background when displaying texts (say around 200 words).

Not considering the fonts, font size, and color contrast, I found
myself feel more comfortable to read texts on dark background for
longer period time on screen. Some posts I found on web (such as
http://my.opera.com/Vorlath/blog/show.dml/283240) also state print
media and computer screen are different. Computer screen itself
outputs lights and thus white background can be blinding. However,
most of the news site and even the IXDA forum is still using white
background. Is this just a convention or has some scientific reasons
behind it?

-Yun-Ling
________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

13 Mar 2009 - 12:24pm
Joshua Muskovitz
2008

Keep in mind that the research involving early monitors isn't
necessarily still valid.

Early monitors had issues of refresh rate (flicker) and image
deformation (blooming), in addition to distortion from interlacing.

With today's flat panels, high refresh rates, and non-deformable
pixels, ymmv.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 10:28am
Tiffany MIchelon
2009

I have had this discussion with several designers and non-designers
alike. There is a "cool" factor to light text on a dark
background. However, I always feel that it is a much less
professional presentation. It would take the right kind of company
to pull it off.

>From a usability/readability perspective, The good folks at Iconic
Sans did a very interesting post/experiment that hit the nail right
on the head. Check it out:

http://www.ironicsans.com/owmyeyes/

If your eyes are burning and sore after trying to read that white
text on black background, your eyes are stronger than mine. For lots
of text, I say go with the standard, dark foreground, light
background.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 4:51pm
Evan Meagher
2009

I agree with Vance. In many cases, how the user perceives the text
will matter more than its statistical legibility. You shouldn't
necessarily sacrifice readability to strictly adhere to the persona
of your site, but amplifying your brand by conveying a certain style
(professionalism, etc) can often be more positive than having
perfectly legible content.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 6:54pm
Jarrod Lombardo
2008

http://www.ironicsans.com/owmyeyes/

With a bold-weight, sans-serif font like that page has, I agree that
it hurts my eyes to have white on black. When I have normal-weight,
serif fonts, dark on light is preferable to me; I can read more of it
longer without eyestrain or the text just becoming "grey".

I spend most of my day looking at code and command-lines (both use
serif fonts) on my screen, and the light backgrounds behind text
reduce the time I can work significantly so I set my editor and
terminals to light colors on black.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

13 Mar 2009 - 2:33pm
Ryan Lum
2006

I definitely agree. My eyes are still burning! --wasn't painful but still lingering..however I am likely to remember it

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Tiffany Michelon
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 1:29 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] White text on dark background?

I have had this discussion with several designers and non-designers alike. There is a "cool" factor to light text on a dark background. However, I always feel that it is a much less professional presentation. It would take the right kind of company to pull it off.

>From a usability/readability perspective, The good folks at Iconic
Sans did a very interesting post/experiment that hit the nail right on the head. Check it out:

http://www.ironicsans.com/owmyeyes/

If your eyes are burning and sore after trying to read that white text on black background, your eyes are stronger than mine. For lots of text, I say go with the standard, dark foreground, light background.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

14 Mar 2009 - 10:47pm
yong hwa
2009

My company UI team just had similar discussion not long ago. Yes, in
human factors there's the logic of luminance and illuminance.
Personally, i will go for black text on off-white (light grey)
background if the task involves lots of text and user are required to
read it. The font type, leading, spacing plays an important role in
readability...so i guess it really depends on usage.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39974

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