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.
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?