Text on Screen
By Ivan Millan

Text on Screen

Text on screen can be made up of letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs and its main use is to communicate and convey some type of message. These communications can be produced by the creator of software or through translation from audio, video or web based information into text on screen such as subtitles and closed caption. Text on screen also serves as a tool for students with special . Assisstive technology allows for students with auditory problems to read content they can't hear. Text used in software has different functions and abilities depending on the software, media and its user. Sometimes this text allows for the user to interact more efficiently with the software, but other times it can be detrimental. Using text on screen in different ways withing software design can be the difference between successful and unsuccessful software.

History of text on screen

external image apple_ipad_book.jpg
The earliest use of text on screen comes from the era of silent films in which text on screen was
used to narrate part of the action. As technology evolved so did the use of text on screen, from large personal computers to the smaller more convenient laptops. The way text on screen was being experience kept changing and today, there are different devices that can be used to run software where text on screen is revolutionary. For example; the iPad, along with other similar products, allow the user to run software and applications that take text on screen from simple subtitles to complete books readable on screen.

Colored text on screen

Software can include text that may vary depending upon aspects such as purpose, user, content and design. As software is created, these aspects along with others need to be kept in mind in order to create user friendly software.

Janko Zufic and Damir Kalpic Study

Researchers Janko Zufic and Damir Kalpic in 2009 created a study in which they tested whether text or background color influences memory efficiency. When creating software it is important to understand how colored text can affect student performance and having a study like this available can benefit someone creating software for a specific target audience. In the study, the control group used traditional black text on white background and the experimental groups were tested on 29 other different combinations. The results showed that certain combinations of text and background color have better results in terms of memory efficiency than others. According to the research, memory efficiency is best improved when black text with light yellow background is used. Enhance.JPGOther combinations the also supported memory efficiency were yellow text and sea green background and yellow text with blue background. The classic combination of black text and white background came in 16th place. The worst combinations of text on background for memory efficiency were green on white, black on light brown, orange on black, orange on white, and finally dark red on white. What implications does this have on text on screen for software? Color combinations that promote memory efficiency can be important for education software in order to target content that can improve student performance. If software takes into consideration some aspect of this idea, students ability to memorize equations, vocabulary words and other content can be innovative.

Color Coding

Jan L. Plass (2009) states that color coding text and instructional visualizations can enhance student learning. Two groups were tested in the experiment which focused on two task, one task had color coded text along with the instructional visualization and the other had no color coding. The results show that text that is color coded to the visual representation is greatly more efficient than that of the non color coded text. According to Plass (2009) having text that is color coded helps students focus their attention to a specific idea that they are working with. This is important for developing software because it allows text on screen to be used in a more efficient way making the goal of education software more obtainable.

Repetition and Alignment

Structuring text on screen can affect the overall look of software. Repetition and alignment are two ways in which text can be used to manipulate what a user sees and remembers during the use of the software. Mike Rundle (2006) states that repetition is considered the repeating factor that creates the overall cohesion. What this means for text is that in order to create a cohesive feel, titles need to have the same look as other titles, paragraphs need to have the same look as other paragraphs and this will create consistency. Furthermore, repetition allows for the user to become familiar with the functionality of the software which will make it more user friendly. Similar to Rundle, Hsin-Te Yeh (2010) states that repetition and consistency are essential to design and will help unify and strengthen the visual interest of the design.

Sun Microsystems suggest that the alignment of text is vital to the appearance and ease of use. Alignment of text can connect different elements on screen according to Yeh (2010) aligning the element of text can create a certain connection with other visuals on screen; therefore, it is important to recognize the best way to present aligned text. Rundle (2006) agrees with this idea and further notes that alignment of text needs to also be consistent which returns to the idea of repetition. Furthermore, when deciding how to align text you should not use both left align and right align because this can disrupt the unity of the text. Desktop Publishing acknowledges that center aligned text creates a formal layout. Keeping these idea in mind can help create tones and feelings about the text to wish to display in certain layouts.

Supporting text on screen

Text has been used as a form of communicating ideas in various media and it is continually changing. Content once explained in pure text, is developing the need for visual and interactive representations to support the text. Debopriyo Roy (2007) found that participants of his study were able to make greater connections with the use of text and visuals together. Another study found similar results in terms of text and visuals efficiency with learning. Jan L. Plass (2009) states that comprehension and knowledge transfer is more effective when text is presented along with visuals rather than by text itself. Furthermore, research found that some specific visuals are more effective when viewed before text on screen than they are after text on screen. Plass (2009) claims that when text information and visuals that are important to understanding a concept are presented at the same time together, learners split their attention causing a loss of comprehension. Moreover, it is suggested that designers integrate elements with timing or physical arrangement in order to keep this from occurring.

Text supported by visuals helps comprehension
Text supported by visuals helps comprehension

Medical Research

Using software on computers to enhance student learning is an advantageous idea; however, medical research suggest that spending too much time reading text on screen or using software can cause some visual problems. According to Christina Chu (2010) computer vision syndrome is an eye and vision problem stemming from computer use. Some symptoms may include asthenopia (eye strain), accommodative (focusing problem) and vergence (simultaneous movement of both eyes in opposite directions) difficulties and dry eyes. Furthermore between 64 and 90% of computer users experience visual symptoms which may include eyestrain, headaches, ocular
discomfort, dry eye, diplopia and blurred vision after prolonged computer use. Chu's (2010) study focused on the comparison of symptoms after viewing text on a computer screen and hardcopy. The results showed that blurred vision while reading text on screen was significantly worse than when reading a hardcopy. Marta Eleniak (2003) states that 8-10% of men have red-green color blindness and it is the most common, 1-2% of men have blue / yellow color blindness. Moreover, pairing extremes of wavelengths and using high chroma colors can cause headaches.
If you can read the text withing the circle you are not red / green colorblind
If you can read the text withing the circle you are not red / green colorblind

When choosing your text color in software, it is important to take this medical research into account because students today spend a lot of time in front of the screen and this can harm their vision. Reading on a computer screen compounded with text of certain colors, can lead to health problems that can be avoided by setting time limits for computer use and choosing colors that do not cause health problems.

Dos and Don'ts

Using text in software involves serious decision making when it comes to the functionality of text. Creating the right combination can be difficult in order to accomplish an end goal, but the following will provide some guidelines about the use of text.

Doexternal image contrast_02.jpg

  • When using color with text try to create strong contrast between background color and text color (Eleniak 2003).
  • If you create a background for your text make it solid and plain (Eleniak 2003).
  • Light also contribute to the legibility of text; therefore, use dark text in bright light conditions and light text in low light conditions (Eleniak 2003).
  • Use black text on white background for a more classic and professional (Eleniak 2003).
  • Red text and other vivid colors can be used to call attention to users (Eleniak 2003).
  • Increase color contrast and text size to enable users with visual impairments to use your application (Sun Microsystems 1999).
  • Short and concise paragraphs or sentences should be used to make your point (Friedman 2008).
  • Ensure your text is legible and free of grammatical errors (Friedman 2008).

Text in front of pattern is difficult to read

  • Text in front of patterned, textured or overly colorful backgrounds can be difficult to see clearly (Friedman 2008).
  • It is not recommended to use a lot of different colored text because it can become confusing for the user (Friedman 2008).
  • Try and stay away from using red text on green background or green text on red background because red/green colorblindness is common (Friedman 2008).
  • Use Grey text (Friedman 2008).
  • Large block of text is usually harder to read (Illustrating 2011).
  • Having too much text and graphics together can have an overwhelming feeling that makes it difficult for the user to read (Illustrating 2011).
  • Using more than 3 types of text fonts and more than 3 sizes can disrupt the unifying feeling (Friedman 2008).


Design Videos

Essential Color Checklist for Web Design

How C.R.A.P. is Your Site Design?

Illustrating the Principles of Design

On-Screen Text - Assisstive Technology

Sun Microsystems


Chu, C. , Rosenfield, M. , Portello, J. , Benzoni, J. , & Collier, J. (2011). A comparison of symptoms after viewing text on a computer screen and hardcopy. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics, 31(1), 29-32.

Eleniak, Marta. (2003, April 28). Essential Colour Checklists For Web Design. Message Posted to http://blogs.sitepoint.com/colour-checklists-web-design/

Friedman, Vitaly. (2008, January 31). 10 Principles of Effective Web Design. Message Posted to http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/31/10-principles-of-effective-web-design/

Illustrating the Principles of Design: Desktop publishing. (2011). Retrieved March 28, 2011, from http://desktoppub.about.com/od/designprinciples/l/aa_pod2.htm

. (2010). Retrieved April 18, 2011, from http://www.at-links.gc.ca/guide/zx33008e.asp
Plass, J. , Homer, B. , & Hayward, E. (2009). Design factors for educationally effective animations and simulations. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 21(1), 31-61.

Roy, Debopriyo (2007). Using Spatial representations in Designing English Language Manuals for Non-Native Speakers: A Preliminary Study.Professional Communication Conference. 1-18

Rundle Mike (2006, April 10). How C.R.A.P is Your Site Design? Posted to http://thinkvitamin.com/design/how-crap-is-your-site-design/

Sun Microsystems (1999). Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://java.sun.com/products/jlf/ed1/dg/higg.htm

Yeh, H. , & Cheng, Y. (2010). The influence of the instruction of visual design principles on improving pre-service teachers’ visual literacy. Computers & Education, 54(1), 244-252.

Zufic, J. , & Kalpic, D. (2009). More efficient e-learning through design: Color of text and background. Online Submission.