on Oct 9, 2007
When I re-did my theme last week several people lamented that I wasn’t going with light text on a black background. The complaint seems to be that black-on-white sites (like this one) are painful to read.
I found this interesting, because my experience is precisely the opposite: Light letters on a dark background are brutal on my eyes. After just one paragraph of that I’ll have horizontal lines burned into my vision when I look away. It seems like my eye notices that the presented image is mostly black, and dilates accordingly. The bright letters are then free to scorch the everlovin’ crap out of my optic nerve. Clicking through from a black page to a white page delivers a seizure-inducing burst of light.
Things to note about how I use my computer:
- I have a 19″ CRT monitor, with the screen refresh set to the maximum. (85Htz.)
- I have carefully placed the lights in this room so that I never get any reflective glare. If you replaced my screen with a mirror and sat in my chair, you wouldn’t be able to see a single light source or window in the reflection. (Glare is one of the major reasons I hated working in an office. Offices are perfect environments for maximizing screen glare, with a half dozen light sources bouncing off of each and every screen in the room. Brutal.)
- My room is a bit dim.
So I have several theories about people who prefer black pages:
- Perhaps they are using laptops or flat-screen monitors, and perhaps those screens work best with white-on-black. I don’t have enough time in front of laptops to judge.
- Maybe their monitor refresh rate is low. I find that anything under 70Htz, well, hurts when looking at all white. It’s like staring into a strobe. While low refresh rates are cruel in general, black backgrounds are less abusive than white in these sorts of setups.
- Maybe their monitor is smaller, and thus doesn’t dominate their vision the way larger monitors might.
- Perhaps they are in environments with a lot of glare? Maybe that glossy blob of light forever smeared across the upper left corner of the screen keeps the eye from acting like you’re staring into a dark hole.
- Maybe they are sensible types who use their computer in a well-lit room.
- Maybe they are just, like, different and stuff.
White on black just isn’t an option for this site, since I need to be able to read the thing without going blind. Still, I feel bad for people who struggle with white backgrounds. Those are by far the most common sort of site, and so the internet must be an uncomfortable place for them.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.