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Color can greatly affect how your user works with your application. Microsoft does not publish standard guidelines on color usage—yet. When designing your application, the following guidelines may help you:

Windows allows users to select default colors for window text and background. It’s best to accept these default colors for the parts of the program that require the most data entry: the user has expressed a preference, so you should respect it!

Without forgetting the first point, you may choose to accentuate windows and screen elements by using color. Color can set off specific areas in a window—it can be more effective than a group box.

Use color to discriminate between different parts of your program. For example, you may associate one window background color for dialog boxes related to accounts receivable data entry, and another for payables.

Use color to visually relate similar parts of the program. For example, you may associate one window background color with phone number data.

Use standard cultural associations for special alerts. In western culture, the most ‘meaningful’ colors are probably the ones on the traffic lights: red, yellow and green. You may use red to signal a halt in a procedure. You may use yellow to signal a warning. Green, of course, means go, all clear.

When adding color to text elements, remember that most colors look best against a neutral grey background. If you don’t use grey, be sure there is a high contrast between the text and the background color. In dim lighting, color tends to wash out.

Bear in mind that 8% of males in Europe and America have some degree of color blindness. The most common type reduces the ability to distinguish red and green from gray. In a less common type, the user cannot distinguish between yellow, blue and gray.

Remember that on monochrome LCD screens, light blue is very hard to distinguish from gray and white.

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