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Fifty Shades Of Grey

Leader By Paul White

Is it just me or have today's software GUI designers been turned by the dark side? The latest versions of my favourite graphics program, DAW software and even some of my plug-in software all have incredibly dark screen designs, which, in the words of the fabled Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, "have been added for our pleasure and convenience”. The official reasoning seems to be that darker screens are more restful on the eyes, which is why much of the text has been changed from simple black or white to various shades of grey. If restful means 'increases the urge to fall asleep because your visual cortex is overheating', then they may well be right, but it's not especially useful if you actually need to get any work done.

Fifty Shades Of GreyMaybe if you have 20/20 vision and were brought up in a coal mine this 'muted styling' would be perfectly acceptable, but as the average age of software users increases year on year, trying to read black text on a dark grey background, or even dark grey text on a slightly lighter grey background, is no easy task. Add to that the fact that many of us do mobile work on laptops that are fitted with glossy screens that reflect every mote of ambient light and you have a recipe for headaches, stress and general aggravation; the very things the designers claim they've adopted darker colours to avoid. It simply defies logic. In my view the latest generation of some GUIs are clearly a triumph of styling over functionality, and if you agree then you need to make your opinions known, both by emailing the manufacturers and by having a good old rant in our forums. If you don't the next version might be black text on a black background for enhanced restfulness.

All it needs to put the problem right is to include user preferences that allow the background and text shades to be adjusted. Other software companies have done this, and in some cases even earlier incarnations of the software made by the guilty parities have offered such a feature. So can it be that the GUI designers have now become so certain that their creations are the epitome of usability that their professional pride won't allow them to give us mere mortals the means to tamper with what in their mind is clearly perfection? Possibly so, but we need to let them know that we don't all share their viewpoint and some of us just want a user interface to be something we can actually read without having to wear reading glasses or working underneath a blackout cloth. Navigating an interface that looks like the inside of Darth Vader's codpiece is really not acceptable. Come on guys, I just want to get on with making my music. If I wanted a challenge I'd have bought a computer game instead.

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published November 2013