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Take a look at this communication app I am making for our small company (you might need to open it in a new window to see it clearly):

enter image description here

The application is docked on the right side of the screen. It stays on top, but it never overlaps other windows because I've tricked the computer into thinking that it is a Windows Bar.

Everything is working out great and the CEO loves it, the problem is, the top half looks a bit bland. The bottom half looks nice and professional, the top half just seems... ugly and I can't think of what to do with it.

I've got an option screen that I think looks nice:

enter image description here

I've also got a popup for when you click on the "Choose People" button.

enter image description here

What can I do with the top half to make it look nicer?

EDIT

Well, I was going to do Roger Attrill's design, problem was, labels apparently don't have a background image property and it was going to be too hard to overlap controls.

I ended up going with the other two answers. I thought you guys might be interested in seeing the final result:

enter image description here

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3  
"Too Bland" looks at tags "business-application" Yep. –  Ben Brocka Sep 17 '11 at 23:44
    
Ben, you are funny. Welcome to my world - bland, boring, business apps :) –  Nadine Schaeffer Sep 18 '11 at 0:35
    
@Ben: don't knock 'em. They help businesses be profitable and keep all of us in jobs (whether we work in software/it or not). –  Marjan Venema Sep 18 '11 at 7:49
    
@MarjanVenema I'm not knocking the concept of business apps, but their all-too-common tendency to completely ignore appearance and often usability in favor of...well, nothing. I'm fixing a few of these myself =) –  Ben Brocka Sep 19 '11 at 13:03
    
@BenBrocka: I understand and sympathize... –  Marjan Venema Sep 19 '11 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

For the Application: The thick black horizontal lines separating each person are very heavy. Try removing them or making them a light gray. Also, consider using a subtle background texture to add a bit of visual interest. I really like this site for inspiration along those lines: http://subtlepatterns.com/

For the Pop Up: Better typography and a few light splashes of color could help you a lot here. Use typography to help out with the visual weighting of the form elements. In particular, make the top radio button choices a bigger font, and make the sub otions a lighter color and a smaller font.

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Without disturbing the overall pale and minimal feel that I assume you're going for - I did this quick mock-up - removing the distracting noise of horizontal lines and introducing a hint of colour into the look - also doing away with the MS System font or whatever it was. I'm sure you can do something with the message areas as well...

enter image description here

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2  
+1. Highlighting message titles and participant names is de rigeur in IM apps anyway. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Sep 18 '11 at 1:35

Maybe give every other row a light gray color. Or clean up your "boxes". They don't look as clean as they probably could be. Instead of just bold, make each box header have a color.

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1  
A faint zebra stripe can help add readability to the rows as well, making them visually distinct AND more interesting. –  Ben Brocka Sep 17 '11 at 23:46

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