Sunday, June 4, 2006 4:27:13 AM
It isn't something we talk about much anymore. But the fact is that most web pages have a bright background. I tried to tone this page down a little by using a light gray. If you'll notice, I have a lot of black in the header and for good reason. A monitor screen outputs light directly into your eyes. Too much light can give headaches and visual trails (seeing faded copies of things you were just looking at even though you're now looking elsewhere). This is a property of light. You can't escape it. So why is everything on a white background?
In print, it makes sense to have black on white. Print is a reflective media. The light used to see the print comes from an external source. So you need the highest contrast possible and reflect as much light as possible otherwise you will strain your eyes. With a computer monitor and with TV, the situation is reversed. The device itself has its own light source. When using paper, the light that is reflected is diluted. But not so with a monitor. So who exactly came up with the bright idea to use white as a background colour on documents and web pages?
I can understand it if the document will be printed. But even so, colours can be changed before printing. I find that the sites that are easiest to read are the ones with a dark background. I also note that most real programmers also use a black background in their programming environment. Long hours at the keyboard means that you can't afford getting a headache from staring too long into bright lights. Personally, I can feel the effects of looking at a dark page immediately. A certain amount relaxation is instantaneous. I also find that the darker background makes it easier to read.
So how is it that the majority of people don't agree with this? Perhaps it's because our bodies have an instant reactionary response when confronted with so much bright light that we MUST pay attention. Darkness leads to relaxation and possibly to lose interest. I don't know. All I know is that dark screens make for easier and more joyful use of my computer.
The other topic I want to talk about is screen resolution. I'm betting a lot of people would be amazed by what resolutions people use. About 30% use 800x600 an over 50% use 1024x768. The rest is oddball resolutions like 1152 wide or even the incorrectly adjusted aspect ratio of 1280x1024. I have no idea how people use 1600x1200. I have a 19" and I use 1024x768. Anything else is just way too hard on the eyes. I still remember when I was a tech guy and this one lady got angry at me for changing her screen resolution when I serviced her computer. I forgot to change it back. She had it set at 640x480. I had simply set it at 800x600. Granted she had a small screen, but 640x480 seemed a bit much... or little. Her reason for using 640x480 is that it was easier to see and read everything. In a way, I agree with her. I'm using 1024x768 and although I could set it much higher, I don't like to strain to see things. It's much better to have everything easy to read.
A lot of people also set their computers to use large fonts. I don't know how many times I've been hit with this one. I don't know why, but I always forget to test my application with large fonts. A few years back, I wouldn't check on purpose because I thought it was ridiculous. But the truth is that everyone is different and everyone has their own likes and dislikes. You should always test your application with different resolutions and different font sizes. Sometimes, the application won't even run with a font change. This still boggles my mind, but a font size change can cripple your software if you don't check for it.
I still remember when the change happened from black backgrounds to white backgrounds. It happened almost overnight. I think perhaps the DOS days had something to do with it. Maybe we just wanted anything than that dreadful black screen. A lot of times though, I see people use settings just because they're higher or supposed to be better in some fashion. Maybe they think not using the highest resolution is a waste of resources? I tried using 1600 and even 1280. I'd like to use 1280 actually, but the aspect ratio is off. My current card (piece of crap) doesn't do the proper 1280x960. And 1152 is just too oddball and I don't find that an extra 128 pixels warrants the tradeoffs.
Sometimes, I think certain trends don't come about because they're better, but rather because we're tired of the old. Sometimes we even do things that are detrimental just because we can. White backgrounds on computer monitors are harmful. But there'll always be people that say otherwise. I once heard that this is "hyped" so that skills used in print can be applied with computers. Otherwise, all the colour inversion would mean relearning everything about proper design and layout on dark backgrounds which isn't used all that much in print. Is there something to this "rumour"? I don't know. I do know that novices set their monitors to the appropriate resolution more than computer literate people do. However, I've often seen novices use 8bit or 16bit color when they could be using 24 or 32 bit colour. Lower resolutions mean less memory requirements and more colours. But whatcha gonna do?
Maybe we should start paying more attention to what is more comfortable. But there's something awfully convincing about bigger = better, no? Then again, if I could have a theatre to display my screen on it at super high resolutions, I wouldn't care how bad it was for me. Could you imagine that big a screen? I'm going to go daydream about that for a while. Au revoir.