We're currently discussing a redesign of the applications we develop for internal use. Now, to change things for the better, we'd like to make as many UX considerations as possible before we go ahead. First off, here is some cornerstone data to describe our application: Most of them are typical data entry forms, some displaying an image and one or more text fields, some more typically displaying CRM-type data. Others display data in Grids, but that's basically most of it. They are .Net applications. People use them for many hours each day.
Now I myself am a software developer, and I can't say enough about how much darker editor color schemes eased my daily pain. I feel like the visual stress has been taken away from me, but on the other hand there are colleagues who happily use their white backgrounds. I also noted that many design applications like the Adobe palette, 3DS Max and so forth switched to darker layout, but that (I've heard somewhere) is supposedly because of a disturbing effect of white background when working with images.
Of course it's impossible to make an application "beautiful" in the eyes of all users, but I want to deliver applications that cause little visual stress (if possible, none), make the user feel at ease and probably even speed up the data entry by effectively guiding the focus.
Do you have any information based on your own experience / academic investigations / market recommendations / whatever concerning contrast, colors (warm / cold / neutral), use of images, text fonts and general design considerations that you can share with me?
I know this is a bit of a graphicdesign question, but I really hope to find answers that shed light on the ergonomic part of the design, rather than the aesthetic part.
EDIT: I don't know how many of you have already switched to Windows 8, but the minimal design decisions Microsoft has introduced (What they sloganize as "Content before Chrome") are a good sample for what I've considered. While it is truly readable and less detouring to look at a 2 color UI, do you think it is really still more intuitive, more fun to use? Some clickable links look like plain text (no underline, no border, no italics)...Is Windows 8 Styling necessarily good styling? On the contrary, Android and Iphone have a way to style icons and buttons appealing to the user's desire for haptic interaction. You just want to touch that Glass Button...While this is pure chrome, I find it appealing. Is it disturbing the user?