Welcome to the Dark Side

If you really, truly want to freak everyone around you out, I recommend switching the colours on your computer screen. This is very easy to do in Mac (hit apple key+alt+ctrl+8 all at the same time) and works really well, just giving you the negative image. In Windows XP it’s harder and less effective, demanding a trek into the Accessibility panel (Start – Control Panel – Accessibility – though there is a shortcut once you’ve activated it), and once it’s activated EVERYTHING is slightly altered, with different icons and IE is totally screwed, so it’s not quite as seamless. 1

Why do it at all though, other than the afore mentioned freak-out?

Well, it’s one hell of a lot easier on the eyes. I’ve long used the ‘white on blue’ option in Word and love that WriteRoom lets you have total control on the colours of your font and background. Whenever I read text on a website or on screen, I almost always highlight the paragraph I’m reading with the mouse. I guess this is the digital equivalent of sticking your finger on the page but it has the added advantage of changing the contrast from (normally) black on stark white to (in my case) black on soothing lilac 2.

Switching the whole computer does take a bit of getting used to and some things just don’t work – pictures for one. And there are some websites that just look weird – the Bright Meadow penguin (Mr Flibble) is currently freaking the crap out of me. But that’s all ok because it’s just the case of hitting a few keys and normalcy is returned. 3

Before I go any further down this route, I will say this to a few people who might be reading this and going “but Cas, I’ve spoken to you before and you are rather vocal in your hatred of white-on-dark themes”. I still am. There are perhaps a handful of white-on-dark designs I’ve seen which I like. The majority just don’t do it for me, whatever ‘it’ is. They don’t float my design boat. I prefer light, fresh and clean. Dark is just too, well, dark. Plus it’s really hard to get the contrasts right and they all to frequently end up unreadable. I’m not advocating that everyone suddenly start designing white-on-black – though bearing the use of off white in mind might be a good idea.

Rather I am suggesting users try for themselves switching their monitor colours. It does ease strain on the eyes and, as mentioned at the start of the post, it totally confuses those looking over your shoulder. This isn’t a design choice imposed on me, this is my own choice.

And all you designers out there: I know you’re probably already fed up to the back teeth with talk of accessibility, but think on this. I’m average. I have fairly normal eyesight. I’m viewing the web on an averagely priced LCD screen. I’m using a fairly common browser (Safari) with no bells or whistles. Yet if I’m flipping the colours and playing around with the accessibility options on my computer, it’s a good indication that I might not be the only one. There’s more of us out there than you think and if I can’t view/use your site for whatever reason when I’m doing something not that unusual, I probably won’t be back.

So here’s what I propose: everyone flip the colours on their computer for the afternoon. See what you can do, see what you can’t do, and then think how you might be able to make it a bit better. For me, I’m off to tweak some of the grey I’ve used here on Bright Meadow as the contrast isn’t quite good enough.

End notes:
1 XP might be more customizable in this respect than I am giving it credit for. The only Windows machine I have access to is my work one in which most of the customization is locked out

2 As an aside, I do so love how customizable things are on Macs. OK, so you can tweak things in XP too, but it’s about five advanced degrees harder than it should be.

3 I did try to take screenshots to show you what I see when I look at sites like 9rules (dear lord there’s suddenly a lot of peach) or Flickr, but I can’t. Because it turns out that OSX flips the colours in such a way that my screenshot widget doesn’t pick it up. It just shows what should be there, not what I see.

As a fourth aside, having to flip my screen colours and needing to bump the font size on most of the websites I read is a sure sign I need new glasses. Good job I was getting bored with my current frames really, isn’t it?

14 thoughts on “Welcome to the Dark Side

  1. Neko

    Wow… Mr fwibble does indeed look scary….

    but I loose my frog :( that is my backdrop and he makes me happy!

    Reminds me of the days of wordprocessing on our Amstrad PC 1512 in Liberty, which was white-on-black.

    Reply
  2. Cas

    That’s odd – I was playing at work the other day (during my lunch break I hasten to add) and it didn’t effect the background image at all on my computer. What technique are you using?

    Reply
  3. Moose

    I’ve always wondered why you highlight things when we’re both looking at a site. It really irritates me because I find that much harder to read!

    Reply
  4. Nils

    ‘Why do it at all’ is the bit that stays with me the most somehow. Then again, Windows already is the Dark Side. Also, I can’t even find my accessibility panel. How’s that for weird. Still, knowing me, I’ll try all day tomorrow just to see if I can get a screen shot ;-)

    Reply
  5. Neko

    I changed the settings in the accessibility (sp?) function to high contrast (black) as it si the only option that seemed to be even vaguely like what you were talking about :)

    Reply
  6. peroty

    Have you played with yet? It’s free and it has a couple of neat options so it. Grayscale and true color flip being two of them. :)

    I totally agree that at night the happy color flipping Mac has saved my eyes. :) When I read the title, I half expected to see a flipped theme to match the post. LOL

    Reply
  7. Tristan

    I spend a great deal of my time programming. A long while ago I switched my terminal from black-on-white to green-on-black (which is now actually green-over-a-darkened-transparent-background, but I digress). I certainly find it easier on the eyes.

    However… Macs? Customisable? They seem to have been designed by Henry Ford: “Any theme you like as long as it’s Aqua” (Graphite doesn’t count: it’s just Aqua in grey instead of blue). Even XP lets you select between Windows 95 style and Fisher Price. And then there’s Linux, where there are websites offering thousands of themes that you can download and try out…

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  8. Cas

    Moose – now you know!

    Nils – are you using a Mac or a PC? In OSX you go to your Systems Preference pane and it’s there as “universal access”. On XP at least, you go to the Start Button, Control Panel, and choose “accessibility”.

    Neko – yup, that sounds like what I did the other day at work. Perhaps because my background image is locked by the Corporate Machine it is protected from the dark theme? That’s the only reason I can think of for you loosing your frog.

    peroty – I haven’t played with Nocturne (I took the liberty of fixing your broken link, forgive me). I have to admit that the native OSX switching is doing all I need it to right now. I might play around more soon though, so thank you for the link :)

    As for a custom dark theme, you did see the bit where I said “I don’t like dark themes”, didn’t you? Also, I know I like avoidance of study as much as the next girl (who is Moose, the Queen of Avoidance) but to create a theme for just one post? That’s a bit much, even for me!

    Tristan – so perhaps I should have qualified my “customisable” statement a bit better. For the average user like myself, everything I WANT to customise, I can. Plus I like Graphite. Yes I know there’s Linux out there with the oodles of themes and open source and etc etc etc. Maybe one day I’ll switch to Linux, but right now I like my Mac and I’m not ashamed of it.

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  9. peroty

    Yes, I did see your dislike for black back white text themes. :)

    I figured it’d be an interesting way to introduce such a theme to your site, if you didn’t detest them. :)

    Thanks for the link fix. Now there’s just a missing word and I look uneducated. GO ME! :D

    I really should run that typo contest…

    Reply
  10. Cas

    peroty – I was halfway through editing your first comment to put the missing word in, then I figured that it would just muck up ALL the following comments and lead to more confusion, not less.

    Rest assured, I’ve made much sillier mistakes in the comments in my time! I used to have a ‘preview comment’ button, but it started to bully some other more important plugins so I disabled it. It might be time to bring it back!

    Reply
  11. peroty

    Previewing comments is important. ;-)
    Every now and again I’m tempted to remove a comment that sparks a whole thread of debate, just to watch the madness ensue.
    But there’s really no comments on my site, so no madness. LOL

    Reply

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