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At my company we create Windows desktop applications using Microsoft's .Net (WPF to be specific). The window or "chrome" is completely customized, meaning that we do not use the standard Windows window.

Over the past several months, we have created a base of code to use as the stating point for each new application. In this base, we offer several different color themes that the user can select, i.e. blue, silver, green etc.

I was just curious as to how normal is this?

Does anyone else do this, and do you think that it is necessary?

Is there any research out there that suggests we should or should not offer this?

I haven't found much, but I do know that applications such as those in the Adobe Creative Suite do not offer themes, but do also have their own custom window.

Any thoughts/feedback would be greatly appreciated.

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The 'skinning' concept is something MS has pushed throughout most of the .net frameworks and IDEs. The main concern I have with it is that most of the default themes MS provides are terrible. They tend to lack meaningful emphasis, over-use contrast, and just tend to generally add to chart junk.

Personally, enabling custom skinning of your UI should be the last the UX checklist. Focus on making a solid UI. In the end, you may find that in doing that, you negate the need for people to over-ride it.

As for Baa's point, it is valid, but not that OSes tend to have their own Accessibility themes built-in, so the more you leverage the native UI, the better.

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I agree about leveraging native themes. But he specified that the app would use a completely customized window, and depending on how it's implemented built-in themes may not apply. –  Baa Apr 30 '11 at 15:28
    
Well, if accessibility is a priority, then I'd argue you don't want to be creating an entirely unique UI. It all depends, of course... –  DA01 Apr 30 '11 at 16:04
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Well, for users with visual impairments it may be a deciding factor in whether or not they use your software. If windows themes are not applied to your software, it is important to offer high contrast settings.

Anything beyond high contrast themes is probably just an initiative of your marketing department, but I haven't seen any research on cosmetic themes so it's just a guess.

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So far the only reason it is offered is, "Johnny doesn't like dark gray, he likes green" or "I hate blue, can I make it silver" type stuff. It seems a like a bit of fluff to me. Good point on the high contrast theme. –  Matt Rockwell Apr 28 '11 at 19:56
    
@Matt I don't envy you. heh –  jonshariat Apr 28 '11 at 20:13
    
If you can't support the OS themes (which, if non-default, the user has already taken care to set), then make sure you also offer a reverse-video theme (not white on black; that's too harsh) for the photosensitive. It doesn't matter to a lot of people but it matters a lot to those who care. –  Monica Cellio Jul 5 '11 at 19:16
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