Black color - taboo, myth or necessity?

    After reading this topic and the blog entry on which it is based, I once again thought about how “web design specialists” love it (this is a stone in the direction of the author of the blog entry, but not only - everyone knows of this) to issue long-known theses for revelation and to fiercely promote them. Not caring too much about the logic of how these theses carry over to web design and design in general, and what they originally mean.

    Let's see what the real problem is.

    What is black color?

    This question is clearly not obvious to those who take on the dangers or benefits of black.
    Just because they constantly confuse conditional numbers like # 000 in the palette, the ability of a surface to reflect and absorb light (the true color of the surface), the lighting conditions (the presence of so-called "shadows") in the scene in question, and also the human perception of the color-brightness pair ", Which develops not even in the eyes, but in the brain.

    If black does not happen, can we even get it?

    The conventional number # 000 merely assigns a minimum brightness and a neutral density to the screen pixel (that is, equal values ​​in the R, G, B channels). What next:
    - the LCD monitor turns this color into its “best black”, which is no longer black (turn off the light in the room, fill the screen with solid black, and you will see that it still glows, while in the case of a TN-matrix - almost all colors rainbows, if you look closely);
    - a plasma or OLED monitor does the same, only the weak point is not the backlight clipping, but the reflection of external light from the screen surface;
    - the projector, like the LCD monitor, has the same problem of optical pixel density, through which the light of the lamp still breaks through.

    So when someone says that “there is no black in nature, therefore, you cannot use it in the design of interfaces” - he contradicts himself - after all, screens obey the same laws of nature, and therefore there can be no mythical “absolutely black” on them .

    “We want black!”

    I note that for a mysterious reason, on the contrary, other people need the deepest black on the monitor, and therefore screen manufacturers struggle to make the surface as absorbing as possible, and the pixels cut off the backlight even better.

    Other strange people need the deepest black on the print, and therefore they print black not just with K color ink, but add the remaining C, M, Y to it in equal proportions to increase optical density, because paper is a low-contrast medium. And some still resort to all sorts of tricks, such as glossy paper or coating black areas of varnish, so that light is reflected from the surface in only one direction, and not scattered, from which the effect of the depth of black is enhanced.

    Why are they doing all this? It's simple: a person on a sunny day is able to distinguish in the scene a contrast of more than 1: 10M (including thanks to the brain, and not just the eyes), so the stronger this contrast, the more realistic the image looks. And you can increase the contrast in only two ways - increase the brightness of the light and decrease the brightness of the dark.

    Black or dark blue?

    A part of a “campaign against black” is usually the statement that it is necessary to use not black, but dark shades of different colors. Examples are paintings and photographs. We’ll throw out the photos right away, especially the ones with Instagram, but the rest, too, because what kind of white balance the author set, there will be shades of such color: blue, brown, red. And with paintings (executed in a realistic manner, because it is very difficult to vouch for the adequacy of the perception of surrealists or impressionists) we will figure it out further.

    The atmosphere is a complicated thing, a mixture of gases with water vapor and dust transmits and reflects light in very different ways, making the lighting on a cloudy winter morning blue, and during summer sunset with low clouds - red-orange. So it’s easy to understand how in the picture “Sunset under a clear sky in a seaside town” there may be blue shadows and houses illuminated by orange light: where reflected by direct sunlight that turned orange when passing through a thick layer of the atmosphere, reflected blue light , giving a clear sky familiar to everyone. A similar situation arises in many real scenes where there is a primary strong light source and secondary ones whose color characteristics differ.

    Another situation is easily explained - when there are strong sources in the scene, but the person’s attention itself is concentrated in the shadows. Then the eyes adapt to better view dimly lit details, and the bright details are “overexposed” and their color in the human perception is distorted. Here the shadow also seems colored, because a person really sees the colors of objects in it.

    Great, we figured out the shadows in the painting. But what does this have to do with interface design? Absolutely none. The “shadows” and “illuminated areas” of the flat interface are not actually illuminated by any light sources, they are simply drawn. Yes, when creating volumetric elements, you can make the glare a little warmer, and the shadow a little colder. But won't it look "dirty"? This is already largely a matter of user habits. Most people are accustomed to the rigor and purity of the colors on the screens, so such a decision in the spirit of “sunset with a clear sky ...” can be very controversial.

    I'm not talking about what disgrace such "tinting" can lead to printing, if we are talking about printing screenshots of the interface of the application or site, which does not have a separate print style. An inexpensive low-resolution printer happily splashes rare color dots across a dark gray field. And let's recall the matrix of monitors with 18-bit color, which significantly distort just the colors with low saturation ...

    Is the desire for color strictness subjective?

    But is the desire to see clear colors and high contrast limited only by habit? Definitely not. You can put a simple experiment. In any program, change the neutral (white or black) background to a similar brightness, but with a slight shift in some color. For example, a very light yellow (like old paper) or very dark blue (like a clear sky at night). After working for several tens of minutes under such conditions, the brain will begin to subtract this new “constant component” and the background will appear white or black.

    Similarly, people who work on monitors with a faded backlight do not notice a pink tint, and when reading an old book they cease to notice the yellowness of the pages. And this is not explained by habit - subtraction of the constant component of color is a natural property of the visual center, which allows us to see the situation on a cloudy day gray, not blue, and against this background, to distinguish other colors.

    For this very reason, it makes absolutely no sense to bring a faint color to the neutral-colored interface elements - the brain will reduce these efforts back to neutral colors.

    Or maybe it still makes sense?

    In some places, yes. For example, there is a recommendation not to use solid backgrounds of a neutral color (gray, white) for Android applications, because when displaying such backgrounds with OLED screens, the slightest unevenness in color reproduction, which they sometimes suffer, is clearly visible.

    Plus, if you make the background very dark (no matter what shade), and place the inscription on top in white letters with a black shadow, this will make the text even more contrasting than just white on black. It’s only worth making sure that the audience will consider this text with smoothing, otherwise you will get the impression of “torn” letters.


    The main conclusion is color, light, their reflection and perception - a single complex of phenomena that behaves in very different ways. And it’s worth understanding how exactly, before you take anything to intervene in this process.

    The secondary conclusion is that it is less worth believing in the revelations of various kinds of “gurus” who, as they used to say, “heard a ringing ...”.

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