dotParagon Home ||| Tips & Tools Index

Design for Usability

Noise Impairs Usability


The default browser background is a light grey, reinforcing Edward Imhof's concept (outlined in Cartographic Relief Presentation) that spots of color against a light or grey background will both highlight data and also be easy on the viewer's eyes. Conversely, pure or very bright strong colors are loud and can be unbearable when spread across large areas with little relief.

"Noise is not music. Only a piano allows a crescendo and then a forte, and only on a quite background can a colorful theme be constructed," he writes.

Wired's subscriber base notwithstanding, readability studies in print media have consistently validated the theory that black backgrounds with "reverse type" (white or another light color) are more difficult to read than light backgrounds with dark type.

And at least on paper, neon colors don't flicker.

Thus, web site designers who are concerned about usability and readability should avoid busy background GIFs and black or almost black solid background colors, particularly if a page is text-intensive. Printing these pages is also a chore.

Web site examples:

  • Previous Section, Color
  • Next Section, Images

    This paper is part of the Tips & Tools portion of the dotParagon web site.
    dotParagon Home ||| Tips & Tools Index

  • dotParagon, web services
    specializing in content, design, research

    Copyright Kathy E. Gill, 1996 and 1997. Comments?

    Last Modified: