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In your experience, do users of iPhone apps enjoy using an app with a "cool special background", like the one below, or do patterned backgrounds distract from the overall point of the app?

I've seen some very slick looking apps online, but do not know if such backgrounds actually add anything to the app, other than making it look more professional. For example, do they make text harder to read?

I'm including an example of one of my screens. Would you replace the white background with one of the patterns above, for example graph paper?

Colored backgrounds.


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up vote 3 down vote accepted

The biggest question to ask is always does it detract from the user experience? Is there something awkward, confusing, or slow you're introducing? Is there some usability or accessibility drawback? Does this change depart from useful conventions that make the user feel familiar with the app?

I'm hard pressed to imagine a situation where an otherwise good app would be harmed by a simple, clear, patterned background. And generally if you can make your app look better, it will work better; at least in people's minds. That's the Aesthetic Usability Effect.

Of course, you'll have to try it out in the actual app to see how well it works. A black and white checkerboard background with white text and black containers on it will be....bad. Analyze it in context, but there's no major reason to avoid (or add) a patterned background. It's fairly minor flair. Just be sure it's done well, and in a way that's fitting; if it's the only skeuomorph in your app it may look quite out of place for example. Don't distract, improve. These effects should be subtle.

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Great point about Aesthetic Usability! And here I was, thinking from a pure utilitarian perspective... I'll see how I can make the app look better, since one of my major selling points is ease of use. – Alex Stone Oct 22 '12 at 2:37
Perhaps I'm too minimalist, but my question is "does it add?" rather than "does it substract?" first. Of course, both questions are important, but I'm a strong believer that a great design doesn't contain any unnecessary elements. – Aadaam Oct 22 '12 at 8:44
@Aadaam depends on the situation; in this case there's really no major benefit. When you're adding aesthetic flourishes, does it detract is the bigger issue IMO. "it looks pretty" is always going to be the "does it add" depending on who you ask. – Ben Brocka Oct 22 '12 at 13:20

Letting the users choose one of those background images may be a good idea to add a personal touch. I always enjoy when sites, such as twitter, allow for theme modification; it makes it more engaging.

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A patterned background behind text definitely impairs readability. I'd avoid it for long stretches (sentences) of text. Behind shorter chunks of text, say a label, I might consider a textured background if it wasn't too intrusive. Or if the text was large, which is of course rare on phone size devices.

In your example I'd consider putting one of the subtler backgrounds behind that text, but you'd have to try it to see how it looks on both retina and non-retina displays. It's possible it could add something to the personality and identity of the app, assuming it doesn't too much impact readability.

When I tinker with textured backgrounds (on web) I prefer png24s where it's easy to dial down the opacity if I like the pattern but want to subdue it.

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for me choosing pattern or colored background is useable as long as it dosen't conflict with the content and the rest of the App UI design, it must be matched well.and remmber Minimalist is required always but not plain, it must be attricative for you as designer and also for the user.

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Do you have any information to back this up or is this just your opinion of backgrounds? – MCeley Mar 12 '13 at 19:13
"Minimalist is required always but not plain" Why do you say this? That is quite a statement to make. – JonW Mar 12 '13 at 19:37

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