Presentations that are Easy on the Eyes

Recently I was at a conference and was struggling to see some Visual Studio code on the large screen. As I age, I find myself trying to sit in the front of most talks if I need to see the screen. In this talk, the speaker was using the default dark theme in VS, and it was hard to read the C# code. It often doesn’t matter if I can’t read code, after all, I’m not coding during the talk, but I do like to try and follow along as the person is talking.

I’ve had the same issues with presentation templates. Some companies seem determined to stand out with a colored template for their event, and as they try to differentiate themselves, some will invariably use darker colors for a background. I’ve run into more than a few of these where they look fantastic on a monitor but are barely readable on a projector.

A few days later I ran across a post from Aaron Bertrand on using dark settings for SSMS. At first I thought that was a bad idea, and I debated this with a few people. I even asked a quick Twitter poll, with most people responding they preferred a light template, but only a few people responded. I decided to seek a little wider audience and see what others think.

What colors are easier for you to see when someone presents? Do you prefer lighter backgrounds or darker ones? I know we all want higher contrast between the foreground and background, but as we add in code coloring and other elements, what do you prefer when you’re watching something on a screen larger than a monitor?

I do need to experiment a bit, and as Aaron suggested, blog about my settings. Mostly so that I have a copy of them that I can easily find on new VMs and machines. I don’t think dark backgrounds are better on projectors, but I haven’t really experimented. Let me know what you think, and perhaps I’ll have a whole new look for you later in the year as I present in the fall.

Steve Jones

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About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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3 Responses to Presentations that are Easy on the Eyes

  1. Mark Allison says:

    For blogs and presentations I prefer a light theme. When I am working I use a dark theme. I am in SSDT or vscode most of the time these days and rarely fire up SSMS to be honest.

  2. Chris Fair says:

    When I went back to school, I started to go back for education, which I eventually changed back to IT because I missed it so much. However, one of the classes I took was on classroom media and presentation. The instructor really stressed that we use dark backgrounds with light foreground because the high-contrast between the two actually made the letters appear slightly larger in that kind of set up and causes less eye strain for the viewers, and sited numerous studies that backed his point. Ever since that time I have always tried to use a dark background with light foreground.

    I think the problem comes when code editors (SMSS, VSS, etc.) uses so many different colors for keywords and code that they don’t have enough contrast between the background and words. I currently have a coworker who uses the dark color scheme, but has magenta and dark blue for some of the keywords, which makes it nearly impossible to see on the projector screen when we do code reviews. If she would change the defaults to be different colors, like Mr. Bertrand suggested in the article you linked to in this post, I think we would all have a much easier time seeing her code.

    That’s a long explanation, but I do believe that dark backgrounds and light foregrounds are the way to go, provided the colors used for the foreground have enough contrast from the background.

    • way0utwest says:

      I’m not sure when I switched. Maybe with more Word processor work, but I tend to work in light backgrounds, dark letters. Certainly for many projectors, there isn’t great contrast, and I can’t control that.

      I’m tempted to start trying the dark background, but since I spent a lot of time on web pages, I’m not sure how well that would work.

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