White background standard?
October 23, 2012 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Does everyone expect white backgrounds on websites, even an artist's personal page?

I am developing an artist's website using Wordpress. It is several pages of image-only galleries plus a blog. The artist prefers a black background, but is receiving feedback from peers that we MUST use white. I spend most of my time reading metafilter and editing text in VIM with the Slate color sheme, so I think the professional white background is overhyped. (I do think that dark grey is much better than black though.)

Web designers - is a white background really expected?
posted by scose to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do whatever you want. It's your (or the artist's, anyway) page. It can be any color you like.

And while it's common, it's not expected. It's not like people got to a page with a black background and flip out thinking, "Holy crap, what the hell!"
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:44 AM on October 23, 2012

No. I would actually consider white kind of "amateur hour" at this point, design wise.

For art or images, I would use black or another dark color. For text, I would use a lighter color, something like the light yellow you can choose on the Readability app. White backgrounds make reading text difficult.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:50 AM on October 23, 2012

Black backgrounds on websites are annoying to spend much time at unless they are done well. I wouldn't use pure black, but a textured background can do the same thing without being a strain on eyes.
posted by JJ86 at 11:51 AM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

I think most web designers these days focus more on contrast minimums than specific colors.
posted by xyzzy at 12:16 PM on October 23, 2012

Jim Woodring is still rocking a black bg.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:45 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that a lot of artist sites have white backgrounds for the same reason most galleries have white walls. It doesn't compete visually with the art.
posted by Kololo at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

Some decide to limit their use of color for web accessibility reasons (color blindness, etc.)

Maybe they're asking for the white background so the user can focus on the images without being distracted.
posted by Anima Mundi at 12:50 PM on October 23, 2012

It's an artist's web site: do whatever that corresponds with the artist's exhibition, art, philosophy, etc. Just make sure that you follow basic accessibility guidelines AND AVOID FLASH.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:01 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, here's an interesting HN discussing on equating black with #000 in web design. Zeldman and other renowned web designers recommend using shades of gray instead of #000.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 1:11 PM on October 23, 2012

Lots of white text on a black background can be difficult to read (with good use of typography it can work, but done badly it can look pretty bad. Sometimes all it takes to improve it is to soften it a bit from full black to a dark gray (or to not-quite-full-white text.)

But for images? Use whatever best complements the images. If anything a darker background is preferable to a bright one, as it will recede and make the image pop more.

Not all feedback is useful feedback. When soliciting feedback, it's really important to try to get to an understanding of what the perceived problem is that the person is trying to solve with whatever they're suggesting. If it's "use white! This hurts my eyes!" then that's feedback you should take into account. If it's "use white! Everybody expects white!" you need to follow up and get them to give you their personal reaction to the design, not their expectation of other imaginary people's reactions. You're interested in what they think, not in what they think others will think.
posted by ook at 1:15 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as it isn't a lot of text, use a black background. If anyone still insists on using white on black, please show them this page.
posted by bensherman at 1:34 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rather than just a plain white/pale background color, you could use a textured background with a repeat image such as these from subtle patterns.

(You still need to set a background-color for very old browsers.)
posted by humph at 1:47 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cina Associates currently uses #000000. If you peek their client list, you have to reckon they have some idea of what they're doing.
posted by juv3nal at 2:18 PM on October 23, 2012

Use what works best for the client. There is no right or wrong. Design is arbitrary and highly personal. White backgrounds can be done well, black backgrounds can be done well, as can blue and green backgrounds. Just do what's right for the client, and everything will fall into place.
posted by cvp at 2:46 PM on October 23, 2012

I think it's the opposite. Most photography portfolios use black these days.
posted by cnc at 3:43 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Black backgrounds are fine. I also like #191919.
posted by limeonaire at 4:23 PM on October 23, 2012

Intersting. My choice of dark greys is #1A1918, slightly warm. It averages out to the exact grey you specified. Maybe there is something special about it.
posted by scose at 4:34 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just anecdata, but I hate white on black and probably wouldn't spend any time on the web site unless it was incredibly compelling in some other way. it's not just about contrast by the way, looking at a mostly dark visual field opens the pupils, meaning that the white is over-brightened, and it can also cause flaring and weird visual effects especially with hard contact lens wearers.
posted by Rumple at 5:11 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Piece of advice: make sure that EVERYTHING has colors specified. Some operating systems and browsers make broad assumptions about text and backgrounds, and they're usually based on light-colored themes.

Also bear in mind that various form elements and scroll bars have limited, if any color options. If you need them, they might look out of place on a dark background. Older versions of IE were particularly annoying in the way they handled background colors for radio buttons. A big, ugly, square around the round button, rather than simply coloring the area inside the circle.

That being said, I'm a big fan of websites with dark colors.
posted by circleofconfusion at 8:08 PM on October 23, 2012

but is receiving feedback from peers that we MUST use white.
1. Respond to this with a flat "Why?"
2. Pause for silence from other end.
3. Do whatever the hell you want. (As long as it makes sense for the design/client needs.)

Ook's correct that this kind of advise usually means the real objection is being mis-stated.
posted by Su at 12:13 AM on October 24, 2012

As someone who makes DAILY use of this script to overwrite webpage choices with black text on a white background, I can tell you non-white backgrounds are very popular still.

Copy all of this (editing it onto a single line, if necessary), create a new bookmark named "Zap Colors", and paste the code into the Properties/Location blank. Move that bookmark onto your toolbar.

posted by IAmBroom at 11:48 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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