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I have a line-of-business tablet application that is used outdoors day and night in a vehicle. One of the users recently provided feedback that they find it difficult to read the screen when wearing sunglasses in bright daylight.

The current color scheme is similar to Microsoft Office (2007).

Would switching to a black-text on white background (like this site) work better in your experience? My main-problem with using BW color scheme is that I am not sure how other colors (ie red for important task, or table row alternation) will work.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Yes, bright ambient light reduces contrast, so going with a black and white display will be the best you can do. Increasing font size and weight may also help. Hue differences also tend to wash out in bright light so your color codes are probably performing poorly anyway. Tinted sunglasses probably don’t help either. If the color codes are very important, then you should crank up the color contrast by maxing out the saturation for outdoor use, rather than use the relatively muted colors found in Office 2007.

However, perhaps a better solution is to supplement your color codes with other graphic codes like weight, shape (e.g., icons), and density/number (e.g., dashed versus solid lines). For example, a border of high-contrast diagonal line segments suggests urgency for many users. Distinguishing multiple levels of shading is also more difficult in bright light, so I wouldn’t rely on that. Using redundant graphics in addition to color will maximize you apps accessibility as a side benefit (and your case just goes to show we’re all disabled under the right circumstances).

Any chance your user is using polarized sunglasses? Since LCD screens use polarizers, such sunglasses can make your screen very difficult to read in any kind of light. You could advise the user to try different sunglasses.

To make it easier to read across rows of the table when the sun washes out your zebra striping, you could insert a half-high empty row every 4 or 5 rows. Or you can try a horizontal rule every 3 to 5 rows.

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The point on polarization is a good one - They are probably wearing prescription sunglasses or transition lenses but other non-glasses wearing users could wear polarized lenses. –  John M Aug 16 '11 at 13:55
    
What is better for outdoor? A dark theme or a light theme? –  Van Du Tran Jul 18 '13 at 14:14

If said tablet is an iPad, there is an accessibility setting that toggles the display into a high contrast mode. It's not black and white, but it might let you test out a high contrast solution without having to make any changes right away.

If you do decide to go with a high contrast solution, looking for screenshots of older monochrome applications can give some inspiration for how to handle those scenarios like alternating table rows.

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It's a Panasonic Toughbook - an ipad would never stand up in rugged conditions. One thing the model we are using is lacking is a light sensor - this would help to adjust based on lighting conditions. I will look to see if the Panasonic does have a contrast mode. –  John M Aug 16 '11 at 13:54

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