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Evidence on the benefit of light backgrounds


The use of light (grey) backgrounds has met with mixed reaction from plant operators. Despite what many operators are told, the evidence for the use of light colored backgrounds is not incontrovertible.

However, some recent research shows one of the advantages of light colored backgrounds (Positive Display Polarity Is Particularly Advantageous for Small Character Sizes: Implications for Display Design, Piepenbrock, C., Mayr, S., and Buchner, A., HUMAN FACTORS, Vol. 56, No. 5, August 2014, pp. 942951).

In human factors research, display background is described as follows Positive Polarity = Dark characters on light background Negative Polarity = Light characters on dark background The research on a proof-reading task shows that positive polarity improves performance with decreasing character size. Positive polarity improves the perception of detail. So all else being equal, positive polarity would enable smaller fonts than negative polarity.

Does this prove conclusively that light backgrounds are better? No, it proves they are better if you are doing proofreading tasks or those requiring fine detail. Whether it is better for a process plant operator and under what conditions is still open for debate.

This is the impetus for a study to be undertaken by the Center for Operator Performance. The goal of the study is to determine the variables that influence color scheme choice, such as ambient lighting (a variable of interest mentioned by the authors of this study), monitor size and placement, and type of task. This study should begin in early 2015. Stay tuned for the results.

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This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 24-26 in Corpus Christi. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


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David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.

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