I was wondering if there is any science-based research consensus which recommends using nonsaturated colors (pure shades of greys and blacks) in complex graphic design software for better usability? For example Photoshop, 3dsmax, Framer. I understand that darker interfaces are better and well researched and that saturation "removes" black from the color, but what if you still have a great contrast but with some tint?

Example without saturation: enter image description here Example with saturation: enter image description here

1 Answer 1


The examples you have are doing two different things: configuration vs consumption.

I don't have any scientific research off hand, but your examples are doing two very different things.

Manipulation software

The first example you have is document-centric, where the users content is the most important thing. The interface is a tool.

Gray or black backgrounds recede or encase the content in a neutral manner, allowing the user to create, edit and assess the document (or film, pic, etc) they are manipulating free from color interference (which can be undue attention/visual seduction) from the application.

Information software

The second example is for consumption, where the goal is emotional engagement, novelty, brand promotion and promoting the content itself. This is the realm of seductive and engaging style, and color can play an important role.

This is a rabbit hole, but there's a great paper by Brett Victor re: these two types of software/apps.

Magic Ink

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    Additionally, the graphics program has to be neutral... If it had a colored interface, you wouldn't be able to as easily perceive what hues might be cast on your image because your eyes would "adjust" to compensate for the constant colored light. Nov 14, 2017 at 21:26
  • +1 I think Alan Cooper had some work on this, but I haven't been able to locate it.
    – Mike M
    Nov 14, 2017 at 21:44
  • Hi Mike! Great insight from Brett Victor, I'm a big fan of his work! But for example, what about are logins and user dashboard considered extensions of manipulation software? For ex. adobe ID, MailChimp user preferences Nov 15, 2017 at 16:59
  • Good question! My mental model (my opinion) is that logins are considered as 'gateways', where you have a bridge between marketing and product. A login screen can use the marketing 'sizzle' without visible consequence. As for dashboards, in my world it's considered 'in product' (manipulation) and since I work on tools, I crave non distracting background (white, gray, black) so I can focus on the data.
    – Mike M
    Nov 15, 2017 at 17:31

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