White background, black background. Which is better?

B & W1
The Effective Sales Presentation is an excellent blog by Jean-François Messier. It is one of the only sales presentation blogs I can find.  Since I am in sales, do a lot of presentations, and have a passion for presentation design, I am always keenly interested to see what he has to say.

A couple of weeks ago Jean- François re-posted an article by Phil Waknell which discussed what type of background is better for your slides, 5 Reasons Why Black Is The New White. He believes that a dark/black background is better for a variety of reasons:

1.  A black background won’t fatigue your audience, whereas a white background can be hard on the eyes.

2.  A black background will keep them focused on you since your eyes are naturally attracted to the “bright” light.

3.  Smile – you’re on camera; black backgrounds work better if you are being recorded on video.

4.  You may have “slides without borders” – photos that don’t fit the slide have a bright white frame around them.

5.  You will stand out from the crowd since the majority of “bad” presentations have white backgrounds.

I agree with the points which support the use of black backgrounds on slides, but there is one other factor to consider.  I think that there are instances where a white background may be best for someone who creates their own presentation visuals.  Garr Reynolds comments on the background color of slides in his book Presentation Zen Design.  He says that since most stock images have white backgrounds, the images can easily be used on a slide with a white background.  I think the majority of people who create their own presentations have minimal training in presentation design, no Photoshop on their computers, and no access to graphic designers… therefore slides with a white background are easier to work with.  You can find great professional stock images on sites like iStockPhoto.com.

In her book Slideology, Nancy Duarte talks about two factors which determine background color:  the formality of the event and the venue size.  She believes that black backgrounds are most appropriate for formal events and large venues.  Since the majority of presentations in organizations are in smaller meeting rooms and in an informal setting, a white background is probably appropriate. Of course the key is to have a high contrast between your background and any words you may have on your slides.

I wonder though – should you mix black and white backgrounds in one presentation?

Joe Pops

Refuse to be boring

6 thoughts to “White background, black background. Which is better?”

  1. Its interesting to note that the study says that black background wont fatigue audiences. I found this interesting forum thread discussing this same issue for website use – http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum116/48.htm
    Regarding your list question – we have used slides in a presentation with both white and black ( or different colored) background. The dark background indicated a KEY point or conclusion. Background Color helped differentiate and highlight.

  2. Thanks for the comment – on websites I always find it hard to read white letters on a black (dark) background. For slides I find the dark backgrounds seem to give a sense of drama or importance… I don’t know if that’s really true or not.

  3. I have seen black and white backgrounds mixed. In a bright conference room, it’s not a problem – I even do it myself. In a darkened theatre, switching from black to white will dazzle your audience painfully. So Nancy is right: it does depend on the place, although a black/dark background does work anywhere.
    It is true that many stock images are isolated on white. It is usually not hard with the latest versions of PowerPoint or Keynote to remove the background so it works just as well on a dark background. It never caused Apple a problem. I hardly ever use Photoshop or the like – Instant Alpha is usually good enough, and it’s child’s play to use.
    But yes, there are times when stock images just look better on white. And if I must use those images, then I’ll use a white background. I just do so consciously, and never in a darkened room. White can sometimes be the right choice for a slide, but it should never be the default choice.
    Joe, it sounds like you would like SOLD Magazine (http://www.soldlabs.com) – it is an excellent free online magazine for sales professionals with a great section on sales presentations. It’s so good, I’m going to start contributing to it regularly. Check it out.

  4. By the way, in response to Nancy’s point about typical corporate meetings in bright meeting rooms, I would contend that if you use a black background to project, then what people see is in fact a white background – because they are seeing a white projector screen (or wall or whiteboard) with mostly nothing projected onto it. What looks black on your screen is projected as simply an absence of light. It doesn’t matter what it looks like on your notebook: it matters what the audience sees.
    In a bright meeting room, therefore, the distinction is between a comfortable white with some elements projected onto it, or a big rectangle of uncomfortable bright white light around a few useful elements. Either way, your stock image, graph or text appears on white, not black, as far as the audience is concerned.
    LCD screens are an exception because the background does look black if it’s black on your notebook. But because of their extreme brightness, you should absolutely avoid a bright background – unless you’re planning on distributing sunglasses to your audience…

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