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I was asked today to look into designing a stock monitoring windows 8 application and I was looking around for design ideas when I noticed an interesting trend where it seems like most of these stock monitoring or financial apps are on black or dark backgrounds.

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Now I understand white text on a black background is generally used when we want to draw our attention to something but its not a good idea when there is a lot of information to read because of this reason (as per this article from UX Movement) :

The kind of text that users read is paragraph text. You should avoid using white text on a dark background when displaying paragraph text to make it easier from them to read. Forcing users to fixate on the white text for a long time can strain the user’s eyes. This is because white stimulates all three types of color sensitive visual receptors in the human eye in nearly equal amounts. This makes reading white paragraph text on dark backgrounds stressful on the user’s eyes.

White also reflects all wavelengths of light. Because the words and letters in paragraph text are compact and close together, when white text reflects light, the reflected light scatters and runs into neighboring words and letters. This makes the shape of the words and letters harder to perceive, which affects the user’s readability. Compare that with black text, where the black absorbs the light around each word and letter, making them easy to distinguish.

So my question is " Considering most financial apps show a lot of data which are often close together and dynamically updated, why do they use white text on a black background when it has been proven that it would be hard to read over a period of time"

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This may be entirely off base, but I'd always read it as being the other way around - staring at a white screen with black text strains your eyes more than a black screen with white text. In addition, monitors typically emit light rather than reflecting it - so I'm not sure the UX Movement article is accurate here. –  dhmholley Aug 30 '12 at 7:33
    
@dhmholley interesting, do you have any articles about it ? –  Mervin Johnsingh Aug 30 '12 at 7:40
    
No articles, just personal and anecdotal experience unfortunately (which isn't really proof of anything). It would be very interesting to read some actual studies, if any have been performed. –  dhmholley Aug 30 '12 at 7:44
    
No worries,I was just curious –  Mervin Johnsingh Aug 30 '12 at 8:15
    
I have always perceived light-on-dark interfaces to be much more confident - even aggressive - than their dark-on-light siblings. I can't substantiate that claim, but it would make darker schemes more suitable for authoritative apps that try to attract driven users - like stock monitoring programs. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Aug 30 '12 at 8:37
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5 Answers

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The dark and complex interface is a badge of honour

This was tackled by IDEO when they set out to redesign the Bloomberg terminal (see the article). They found that...

...the design also incorporated certain “badge of honor” elements inspired by expert users of the previous system...

and

...an estimated 75,000 machines in use worldwide—including one in the Vatican—users find the aesthetic is dated ...

Bloomberg dominate the space and therefore influence the context.

Traders are a fairly exclusive club. I've lost count of the terms and acronyms that I can't decipher. With a Bloomberg terminal you are 'set up' by an expert. You tailor the interface to your needs and then ... it is a steep and fairly long learning curve. The traders spend a lot of time mastering and perfecting their activities.

There is a lot of resistance to change.

Many decisions are based on current systems and personal preference

My observation is that often (not always), design decisions are not made by designers. At least not to discover and solve a design decision. This is especially the case with the sort of large organisations that build big trading platforms.

Its often personal preference and branding that defines the broad approach. Therefore you can't always read into the trends (I can't offer much proof here, but these are my experiences).

However given the recent increase in prominence of UX in these organisations I'd expect this to change with platforms to be released in the next few years. Change will occur because competition is fierce.

Charts and graphical elements display better on a dark background

I am aware of research that states it is easier to perceive colour and shading differences on dark backgrounds than light. The multilayered and complex charts you might see in such interfaces are easier to view.

When viewing smaller text it is easier to view dark on light.

The best source for this is another answer of UX.SE - http://ux.stackexchange.com/a/23429/15613

If this is true the optimal solution would be to have a dark background behind charts and a light one behind text. However this cases its own issues. A fragmented look and contrast clash for example. Therefore a compromise has to be made.

Some alternative approaches

here are some examples I found with different approaches.

Light grey chart area with dark grey interface: example 1

Light interface and text with dark chart area example 2

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My guess (and it's just a guess) is that these apps use black because their aim is to bring attention to specific elements in the UI. In this case, graph and numbers. People naturally focus on brighter areas. Now, black is generally associated with bad readability, but this is mainly in the case of blocks of text (so the "Top News" screen is a miss for me).

In dark environments, light background can strain the eyes; in very bright environments a dark one will make things easier to see. So that might be a reason. Unfortunately I don't have the knowledge (of the subject or the studies these apps may have conducted, as well as how many of them are using dark UIs) to go further, but definitely want to hear some opinions on this.

Don't know if you've seen it. There are some very interesting points in these answers: What are the negative and positive aspects of dark color scheme?

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Thanks, didnt see that question before –  Mervin Johnsingh Aug 30 '12 at 8:45
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The financial apps contain the following elements which are easier to view with a dark background:

  • Multi colored graphs
  • Changes in color such as status text (green for up, red for down)

Colors are easier to distinguish between over a dark background.


Financial apps are usually used to present the status of the markets and not meant to be read as a book.


Also your assumption that text is harder to read above a dark background is incorrect - there are many elements that this depends on including:

  • Contrast (depends on shades chosen)
  • Emphasis (read all text or scan for details)
  • Surrounding illumination
  • Colors of text
  • Eye sight of readers
  • Type of display
  • Type of font and styling
  • Length of time spent staring at display
  • ...


You can read my following answers for more details:

What are the negative and positive aspects of dark color scheme?

How does use in bright sunlight affect how a web site should be designed?

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This must be a heritage from the tv screens which used to dominate the stock markets. In the very old days there were the massive amounts of paper. When the digital era arised the realtime information was shown on screens, instead of pieces of paper and through telephone lines. As you all might recall, statistics on tv screens are almost always white text on a black background.

I think the white text on a dark background theme is inherited from those tv's and can be seen as some sort of recognition design.

I have not been able to find proper imagery, but I see this image in my head when I think about the stock market

edit:

http://newshour.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/2012/05/24/20120524_stockexchange_blog_main_horizontal.JPG

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I read this and thought to myself I know exactly what he is talking about finding an image can't be that hard ... apparently it is that hard :) Here is the closest I could find it isn't exactly what you were talking about but it is still a dark style display of stock info which probably originated from monochrome screens... newshour.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/2012/05/24/… –  rsparis Aug 31 '12 at 3:06
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I would say that everyone is just following the herd. If all financial apps are dark, new financial apps will be made dark too, to fit in with the herd.

However, I'm sorry to say that the UX Movement article is a load of rubbish. To get the facts straight:

• If white strains the eye, then a dark background would be preferred, because it shows much less white. However, there's no evidence at all that white strains the eye more than black does, except when looking right into a bright light.

• However, there is a valid argument for using dark text on light background, which is not mentioned anywhere in the article. A dark background will make your pupil expand, which will make your eye more sensitive to light. This means that a white text might irritate the eye, depending on the amount of contrast. So, in case of light text on dark background, it can make sense to decrease the contrast by using light grey for text, rather than white. Other than that, I wouldn't worry about it and either go with the herd or not, depending on your aims with the product.

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