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11:1 Use Black Text on Plain, High-Contrast Backgrounds

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11:1 Use Black Text on Plain, High-Contrast Backgrounds

Relative Importance:

Relative Importance rating of 4 out of 5

Strength of Evidence:

Strength of Evidence rating of 5 out of 5

Document Type: Guideline


Topic:

Text and Styles


Guideline:

When users are expected to rapidly read and understand prose text, use black text on a plain, high-contrast, non-patterned background.


Comments:

Black text on a plain background elicited reliably faster reading performance than on a medium-textured background. When compared to reading light text on a dark background, people read black text on a white background up to thirty-two percent faster. In general, the greater the contrast between the text and background, the easier the text is to read.


Sources:

  • Boyntoin, R.M., & Bush, W.R. (1956). Recognition of forms against a complex background. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 46, 759-764.
  • Bruce, V., & Green, P.R. (1990). Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Cole, B.L. & Jenkins, S.E. (1984). The effect of variability of background elements on the conspicuity of objects. Vision Research, 24, 261-270.
  • Evans, M. (1998). Web Design: An Empiricist’s Guide. Unpublished master’s thesis. Seattle: University of Washington. Retrieved May 2003, from http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/webmastr/webdesgn.pdf.
  • Goldsmith, E. (1987). The analysis of illustration in theory and practice. In H.A. Houghton & D.M. Willows (Eds.), The Psychology of Illustration (pp. 53-85). New York: Springer-Verlag.
  • Gould, J.D., Alfaro, L., Finn, R., Haupt, B., & Minuto, A. (1987a). Reading from CRT displays can be as fast as reading from paper. Human Factors, 29(5), 497-517.
  • Gould, J.D., Alfaro, L., Finn, R., Haupt, B., Minuto, A. & Salaun, J. (1987b). Why reading was slower from CRT displays than from paper. Proceedings of CHI+GI’87, 7-11.
  • Jenkins, S.E. & Cole, B.L. (1982). The effect of the density of background elements on the conspicuity of objects. Vision Research, 22, 1241-1252.
  • Kosslyn, S.M. (1994). Elements of Graphic Design. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Muter, P. & Maurutto, P. (1991). Reading and skimming from computer screens and books: The paperless office revisited? Behaviour and Information Technology, 10(4), 257-266.
  • Muter, P. (1996). Interface design and optimization of reading of continuous text. In H. van Oostendorp & S. de Mul (Eds), Cognitive Aspects of Electronic Text Processing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
  • Scharff, L.F.V., Ahumada, A.J., & Hill, A.L. (1999). Discriminability measures for predicting readability. In B.E. Rogowitz & T.N. Pappas (Eds.) Human Vision and Electronic Imaging I, SPIE Proc., 3644, paper 27.
  • Snyder, H.L., Decker, J.J., Lloyd, C.J.C., & Dye, C. (1990). Effect of image polarity on VDT task performance. Proceedings of the Human Factors Society, 1447-1451.
  • Spencer, H., Reynolds, L., & Coe, B. (1977a). The effects of different kinds and intensities of background noise on the legibility of printed text and numerals. London: Readability of Print Research Unit, Royal College of Art.
  • Spencer, H., Reynolds, L., & Coe, B. (1977b). The effects of image/background contrast and polarity on the legibility of printed materials. London: Readability of Print Research Unit, Royal College of Art.
  • Treisman, A. (1990). Features and objects in visual processing. In I. Rock (Ed.), The perceptual world: Readings from Scientific American (pp. 97-110). New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Williams, T.R. (2000). Guidelines for designing and evaluating the display of information on the Web. Technical Communication, 47(3), 383-396.

Poor Example:

The following example shows text on a background that cannot be easily read.

11_01_bad_example