Sunday, August 3, 2008

Eyeball Ergonomics

Right about the time I was fiddling with the colors of this blog a couple of weeks ago, Slashdot ran a question asking about the best color scheme for coding. It isn't a new topic, but it is one that keeps coming up. If you could look over the shoulders of my co-workers and I at the office you would find that almost everyone has customized the colors of their programming environment to some extent or another. And really, programmers aren't the only people who should be interested. Anyone who spends their working days staring at computer monitors can tell you what a big deal eye strain can be.

So what is the best color scheme for people? As with most ergonomic factors, theory and research can point you in the right direction, but it takes a bit of trial and error to get something that works well for you. Depending on how ergonomic your workstation is already, you may have other changes that can increase your comfort much more than a mere color change. However, if you are already sitting in the right position, in a good chair, with keyboard and monitor at the right height and distance, you might be surprised how much of a difference a simple background color change can make in your overall eye comfort.

If you haven't thought about your color scheme recently (or ever), it may be worth it for you to fiddle around a bit. Notably, modern sub-pixel antialiasing technology is changing the way fonts look.* So do some googling or just experiment with different background colors on your computer, you may be surprised what you come up with.

*Microsoft's implementation of sub-pixel rendering, called ClearType, is off by default under Windows XP, but on by default in Vista. The default fonts for Vista are designed for use with ClearType and look terrible without it. All that is well and good, but the programming font I've been using for years is mangled pretty badly by ClearType, and the light on dark color scheme I've used with minor tweaks since the early 90s becomes torturous. Yet another reason why this topic is on my mind.

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