I run a relatively successful website made with Twitter Bootstrap. I've heard from the users saying how they love the design and the responsiveness that my website has. Much of said responsiveness and design comes from using Bootstrap.

I happened across Bootswatch yesterday. And I fell in love with it. It'd let me easily let my users change how the website looks, and without making a lot of interface issues.

I ran into one of the users of the service shortly afterwards and mentioned, in conversation about the website, Bootswatch. I told him how the website used Twitter Bootstrap and how easy it would be to add these additional themes as options.

Surprisingly, he was opposed to the choice of interfaces. He much preferred having one UI - consistent, simple, easy-to-use.

So now I have a dilemma. Do I let the users choose their own design, or force one design on them?

  • 3
    What is the benefit of letting end-users change the UI? Sometimes there can be a benefit, but I usually see it implemented as a bell and whistle rather than serving a specific purpose.
    – DA01
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 19:10
  • 3
    @DA01 on sites where users are likely to spend a lot of time (forums ect) I can see it as being fairly helpful to at least have a light/dark theme. It's a fairly common complaint that a theme is too light/dark when a user prefers the opposite. If it's a check-site-and-leave site I see no reason for customizable theming at all.
    – Zelda
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 20:07
  • @Ben Brocka Yeah, most of my users spend a substantial amount of time on the site when they do visit. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 2:45

3 Answers 3


I believe that the users should be able to recognize your site/service at a glance.

The colors and fonts are part of your branding and should usually be kept constant, except, perhaps if your site performs a service that's supposed to be user-specific (or any other third-parties) and you want to let them express themselves.

Take YouTube for example - a straight identifiable design that's consistent throughout the entire site (mostly white with touches of dark gray and black, and the red logo at the top right) but that allows users to customize their user pages in order to 'brand' themselves (a bit like what Matt said, you provide a service for them to publicize themselves through)

  • 1
    I agree. Several skins not only makes a site harder to maintain, but potentially less memorable. There's a reason why all MacBook Pros look the same for example.
    – Mahn
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 23:55
  • Skins are not the same as themes - skins can change shapes and positions too, whereas themes are just limited recolorings. Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 6:44
  • 1
    I'm not sure your definitions are that widely accepted and obvious. A lot of people use the words "skin" and "theme" interchangeably when talking about graphic user interfaces. A COLOR theme is a bit different in that context
    – ewino
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 9:44


If you assume you know what the right colors for everone are, then you are naive.

Different people need different color themes depending on:

  • Their vision
  • The surrounding lighting (see these two answers: TVs, Sunlight)
  • The specific content they are looking at (e.g. uniform colored text vs graphics or multi colored text)
  • and even their mood.

Look at these two themes for example:

Light http://cdn.userstyles.org/style_screenshots/10661_before.gif Dark http://cdn.userstyles.org/style_screenshots/10661_after.gif

Some people will find the first one more comfortable and some will find the second more comfortable.

The first might be more comfortable for standard people who prefer things that don't stand out, while the second might me more comfortable for people that prefer to focus on the images, that stare at computer screens for hours in a row or that need higher contrast due to vision problems.

The key to getting this right without loosing your branding is the keep the brand's colors, but play with the contrast - e.g. keep the blue as in the above example or change the brightness of the blue. Or if your brand is based on high contrast colors e.g. black and white or yellow and brown, swap the two colors.
Also, make this change cross sites (for all your companies sites) to keep the experience the same.

You should of course create a limited amount of verified themes (verify contrast of all parts, brand colors, look of simplicity and etc.).

As the others stated, if your clients have brand their parts of the site, let them choose the colors, however, let them create a few simple themes each by determining the colors of types of content (e.g. title text and BG, regular text and BG, menu text and BG) - do not give them too many parameters to change, since they may loose control. Also, verify the colors programatically (contrast, max number of different colors used (except black, grey and white)) or better yet, give them a medium range of ready made themes to choose from.

Edit: I think a minimal set of themes (which would not interfere with most brandings) should be light grey on black, dark grey on white and perhaps also white on dark grey and black on light grey.
To make sure the theme is as browser neutral as possible, make sure you override all the colors and don't leave any colors on their default (browser or OS) values.

On a side note: the TV tonight section's text to background contrast doesn't look high enough (in either image).

  • Great example. As I said earlier, I don't have clients that have their own branding. There are tons of great points in this answer that I hadn't thought of. Thanks. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 23:12
  • @JavaAndCSharp Thanks for the edit. I wanted to make that bigger but I thought that it wasn't possible. Also, see the two links I've added. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 23:22
  • Yeah, it's the heading button on the toolbar. Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 2:12

I was tempted to type "No" and move on but I do believe there is a case where multiple themes makes sense. Some companies have a "business to business" model where they don't have a service that they provide directly to the consumer but to a business which then has their employees use the service. Sometimes, and I personally still think its a bad idea, a business may want the tools their employee uses branded with certain colors or themes to fit with their overall corporate image. This would be the only case I would be willing to make multiple themes an option and only down to the business level, not to the user.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is that with any theme there will have to be browser compatibility testing and there are always issues. So now to deliver quality any time you change your site around you need to test everything in every supported browser in every theme. It just creates more possibility for there to be mistakes.

Make one theme for your site. Keep it simple and clean and high quality. And test it thoroughly. Your users will be happy you did.

  • Ah, so I guess this would be a no for me. I don't provide my service to other businesses. However, my site has exactly six pages. (It grabs content from a database and places it in the page, and lets the user add content as well) Images and formatting are virtually nonexistent - not needed for my type of site. Example: Would you suggest JSHint use multiple themes? Like my site, most of the code there is not UI-related. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 2:53
  • Be that as it may, I still feel as though you wouldn't be adding any substantial value from a UX perspective but could potentially be taking away value from the terms of a consistent experience. I suppose at the end of the day it isn't really a huge deal either way. Google lets you apply a theme in mail or on the homepage, but it seems like the majority of sites stick to one theme. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 13:29
  • Hmm. Yeah, Google's an interesting example. Consistency is another con that I hadn't thought much about. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 15:51

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