You would think that the messages you receive are the primary focus of a messaging app, since you spend most of your time reading them. However, many big messaging clients like iMessage and Facebook Messenger highlight your own messages in bright colors, and color the other messages more neutrally. Because of this, the user's eyes are automatically drawn to their own messages.

Is there a reason for this? I know iMessage uses the colors to indicate whether a message was sent using SMS or data, however it doesn't seem to make much sense in other scenarios. What am I missing?

iMessage screenshot

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    I agree with you, I think that's kinda annoying. My only input is that black on white has a higher contrast, so I suppose it's technically easier to read, but it doesn't provide the visual cue that draws your eye to it (IMO). Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 6:23
  • As an alternate reference point, SMS messages I send on my Android are shown in black-on-pastel-yellow, and the ones received are in black-on-pastel-blue/cyan -- they are almost identical in "eye-grabbiness" (with, perhaps, a slight bias towards the one I've sent, but nowhere near as much as the screenshot).
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 14:16
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    I wonder if it is simply that Apple created that color scheme for the mentioned differentiation between iMessage and SMS (utility), and then other companies adopted it after (ubiquity).
    – DasBeasto
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


The starting point is that it's useful to distinguish between "text I wrote" and "text people wrote to me," and color is a simple way to clearly make that distinction. (It's not the only way, certainly -- the left/right alignment indicates the same thing -- but the color distinction certainly makes the difference very clear indeed.)

As for the choice of where to put the color and where not to: Hold your phone some distance from your face, or take off your glasses if you wear them, and see which text is more prominent / easier to read.

For a received message, it's important that the text be as readable as possible, so it's displayed in a high contrast black-on-gray. Your eyes are drawn to the text itself.

For sent messages, it's less important that the actual text be readable, because you presumably already know what you wrote. Therefore a less-readable white text on colored background is acceptable: your eyes are drawn to the message bubble itself ("I said something at this point") rather than the text contained within it ("I said this specific thing").

(There's also going to be a certain amount of 'the colorblind need to be able to see the difference', 'it just looks blah without some color', and 'similar existing apps do this so we will too' mixed into the equation, of course.)


I think you answered your own question but missed out on the concept of what's primary.

Q: What is the primary action of a messaging app?

A: Sending a message

Q: Why?

A: Because the person of interest here is you and your action is taken as a priority.

Just like the primary action of SE sites is to ask a question hence you'll see the Ask Question button highlighted even though getting the answer and answering are also necessary. Hope this helps.

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    I would argue that the messages received are more important (to me) than the ones sent. (Hopefully, the ones I send are of importance to the recipient). As for Ask Question: you can ask a question anywhere, so it can go (prominently) in the header. However, you can only answer a specific question, so that realistically can only happen on question pages.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 14:23
  • I can't disagree with you here because with applications that offer multiple functionalities, people can have preferences as to what is more important. But for the developers and the designers one needs to be picked and the way it has gone so far is that writing an email in an email client is the primary action and sender's message has been the primary element in messaging apps. We'd have to go the inventors of messaging service to find out why they picked this :P Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 5:55
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    I second @TripeHound; in a fact, depending on the context, I cannot help but consider "Because the person of interest here is you and your action is taken as a priority." a somewhat worrying attitude to something called "conversation". Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 13:17
  • Primary action of a messaging app is sending and receiving messages (conversation) and I believe the messages received are the ones that need to be as readable as possible compared to the messages sent.
    – Mo'ath
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 15:33

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