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Hi all. I'm Jin, and I'll be working on the designs for the Stack Exchange sites as they graduate from the beta phase. Each site will have its own unique theme that will reflect its topic. However, all sites will share quite a bit of common elements so they feel like they're part of the Stack Exchange family.

I'd like to thank you for creating a thread on design ideas. It's helped me a great deal. After reading through all the suggestions, and researching on my own, I feel a blackboard theme would work well. It conveys a strong academic theme and has a personal touch, it also gives this community a distinctive character and identity. For those who are still in school learning and teaching, this theme creates a similar setting. For those outside of academia, it strikes a nostalgic feeling.

enter image description here

Of course, creating a dark themed design is always tricky. Bright text on flat black is harsh. But I believe when done right, a dark theme can be beautiful and sophisticated.

I'm inspired by the above black board photo I found, as well as some photos submitted in the other thread.

The design goal is to mimic the blackboard theme. It will have physics equations serving as visual decoration, but subtly so as to not get in the way of the main content. It needs to be simple and relatable to the site's audience.

Here are the design concepts. (click on image to see full resolution versions)

Physics Home

Physics Question

The faint grunge texture in the background is there to add to the blackboard effect. I've used some suggested equations/figures from the other thread as decorations, again, subtly. For the logo, I'm using the Mexican Hat. I think a geometric figure works well in the allotted space.

The equations I used are: Feynman diagram, Maxwell's equation, Heliocentric coordinate system for Kepler's laws of planetary motion, and Electronic properties of graphene. Of course, you are the physics experts, please let me know if I made any mistakes representing them. Also, if you feel there are certain equations that should be included to better serve the site(to reflect the level of questions), let me know. But do keep in mind, these equations are for decorative purpose only. I certainly don't want the entire background to be full of ghost marks. It would be hard to read the real content.

For the tag treatment, I'm keeping it simple. I believe a straightforward "—" feels more natural to how you'd write tags on a blackboard.

I'm keeping the number of colors very limited for this theme. They resemble traditional chalk colors: white, yellow and red(pink).

I believe this design works for the goal intended. The dark theme really makes this site stand out, and the important content is easier to read.

Please let me know your thoughts.

I'm hoping to get the site launched very soon. So an early congrats from me!

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  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The Mexican hat looks too computer generated, and not at all like a blackboard sketch. $\endgroup$ – QGR Feb 19 '11 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ I've never understood why physicists use blackboards when there are whiteboards and even "smart"boards now. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan. Feb 20 '11 at 12:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Jonathan: At ::random land grant university:: the answer is the physics building was put up shortly after Sputnik and the boards haven't been replaced since then. Besides, half the inhabitants were hired shortly after Sputnik and they're a little set in their ways. (Though actually we're losing the real post-sputnik generation pretty fast, now.) $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 20 '11 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ As far as I'm concerned, blackboards are much better than whiteboards. Much of the time, whiteboards don't erase completely unless you stop to scrub them. And when you see a piece of chalk, you know it'll write, unlike a whiteboard marker. Finally, as a curmudgeonly old man I love the idea that when I'm writing on a blackboard I'm using literally stone-age technology. I lament the day our building switched from blackboards to whiteboards. $\endgroup$ – Ted Bunn Feb 21 '11 at 20:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Ted, I agree with all your remarks about the advantages of blackboards, but I loath the dust. Of course, the worst of both worlds are the artificial greenish blackboards which are so much less legible and erasable than real slates. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 21 '11 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ For some reason the dust doesn't bother me, but I can certainly understand why it bothers others. I've heard it said that it's bad for electronic equipment. I don't know if that's true, but it's certainly plausible, and if so it's a good reason for making the switch. And yes, you're right about bad faux blackboards -- they're the worst. $\endgroup$ – Ted Bunn Feb 21 '11 at 21:02
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    $\begingroup$ Please no white on black, too hard on the eyes. $\endgroup$ – Carl Brannen Feb 22 '11 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee: wait, you got real slates? $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 22 '11 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Jin: Thank you very much for your decent work. But the white on black theme is looking very geek-ish and giving me problems reading the page. It is a nice theme, though, so could one invert it like @Tobias suggested? $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Feb 24 '11 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ I love the blackboard theme and the light lettering which makes an intelligent use of grey colours. White on black would have been awful. On the other hand, does a theme realy matter? $\endgroup$ – John McVirgo Feb 24 '11 at 22:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Jin: for the record (and for whatever it is worth), i loved your original design: light-on-dark, blackboard, chalk, color-scheme, Mexican-hat (symmetry breaking FTW!), background equations (though you could include some General Relativity ;-)… FANTASTIC! I know some people prefer the dark-on-light version of the site, but all the elements you created are my dream come true: i wish i could do my TeX presentations exactly like this. 8-) $\endgroup$ – Daniel Mar 3 '11 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ @DMckee In both the former Soviet Union (Russia and Latvia, specifically) and Germany, the schools use sponges or rags with drying cloths or squeegees. $\endgroup$ – Mark C Mar 18 '11 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, we clean our boards wet … not so much dust then. $\endgroup$ – Martin Ueding Nov 16 '11 at 7:44

14 Answers 14

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I like the idea - I actually had my screen colours inverted completely for some days. However...

Looking at one white on black site for a while and then back at the usual black on white causes some uncomfortable afterimages for me, and while I like spending some time here I usually have Matlab/Mathematica/etc. on my screen and don't like to be distracted by funny colourful spots (that's also why I stopped using inverted colours, it didn't work on remote sessions). Maybe that's just me though...

This could also interfere with accessibility issues, I'm afraid. But I like the style if you just invert the colours, giving it an also nostalgic pencil-calculations look:

Inverted style Amplifying the background a bit wouldn't hurt, too IMHO.


I also like the sketchy style and colour choice of e.g. Crayon Physics
Screenshot

but that's probably giving the wrong idea to someone with "advanced" questions. OTOH I can't help but smirk at the thought of a quite sophisticated discussion written down in wax colours :-7

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is exactly the way to go I suppose. $\endgroup$ – Robert Filter Feb 24 '11 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ This is much, much better than what we've got. This white-on-block thing really gets to me. $\endgroup$ – spencer nelson Feb 24 '11 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ The design is OK, but white on black background is perhaps the worst choice you could make. You need to concentrate on the math etc in some of these posts, and black on white has the most readability and clarity. There is a reason most blog sites are NOT black background---no one sticks around there. $\endgroup$ – Gordon Feb 25 '11 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Make the background a little lighter so it's easier to read the text. $\endgroup$ – Mateen Ulhaq Mar 7 '11 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Jin: When will the next design be launched. $\endgroup$ – crskhr Jun 13 '11 at 4:10
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I think white background is better. How about a scribbled notebook background? It could be an authentic notebook, with Einstein's handwriting or something.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree... although I certainly respect your expertise Jin, I don't like the dark background. Every time I see a website that uses a light-on-dark color scheme, it seems "shady" and uninviting. I wonder what it would look like with an inverted background color scheme? i.e. still using the content of the blackboard photo as the background, but as if you had black chalk on a white chalkboard. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 19 '11 at 23:47
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I'm generally skeptical of dark backgrounds, but the mock ups look good.

Things I liked:

  • The chalked in effect on the badges and the vote arrows
  • This semester I'm teaching on a blackboard for the first time in quite a while and you've also done a good job getting the grainy pastel feel of the colors
  • The chalkboard type face for the titles and other oddments
  • The "Mexican hat potential" logo

This I disliked:

  • Nothing big.
  • I don't really like the way the question author block is set off.
  • The footer feels a little cramped (and, yeah, this is in conflict with my appreciation of the font choice...)

Things I'm ambivalent about:

  • Using the clean, sans serif typeface for the comments and post bodies is good for readability, but seems to detract a little from the theme. However, I have no suggestion for making it better.
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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ thanks for the feedback. I'll tweak the author block a bit. I didn't want to do anything too elaborate it may distract from the question text body. As for the footer, I'll have to try several typefaces... I agree it's rather busy right now. The handwritten type, as you can see isn't too readable in small types, close together. There is a trade off between readability and aesthetics here. I am using a Humanist type for body text, I think it's still better than something modern like Helvetica/Arial. $\endgroup$ – Jin Feb 19 '11 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ @jin, I love the way you have intelligently thought through the color layout which is subtle and not in your face like some schemes. Have you been influenced by any design guide lines? $\endgroup$ – John McVirgo Feb 25 '11 at 1:11
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Newbie here, with a little story :)

Yesterday I found this awsome site and was really surprised that I've never heard about it. It seems so different from other and "professional" in almost all aspects.

But one thing I liked very, very, I mean very very much, was nice clean design. "Thanks god", I thought, "finally one "normal-looking" discussion board, in oppose to bunch of awfull-looking kid-designed forums"..

Yes, I am the one of those who hate black backgrounds on sites.

Tonight I come here 2nd time, happy to find good answers to my question, happy to see a lot of other interesting questions and answers, happy with all concept of a site, full of motivation to participate in this remmember normal-looking site..

And after one refresh black backgorund slap in my face! Can't beleive :)

I don't know how long this site "normaly" (means with white background:) ) exist "before me". But putting dark background right now, when I come here, I find as act of conspiracy :)

To be honest if this site has dark background when I come first time here, I will, in spite of content, never stay here more than time needed to see content of link which got me here.

Please, keep in mind that I am not talking about bad or good design. That's out of my scope of interest and competence. I appreciate effort of designers and his elaboration in justifying new design, and I am sorry for sort of criticism.

But as a user I prefere (if not demand) nice, clean, discrete and unobtrusive design, in which black/dark on white/light background, however it sounds fraky, is "must".

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  • $\begingroup$ totally agreed. $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 25 '11 at 8:17
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To be honest, to me it looks a little unprofessional. The idea itself and realization are interesting and I am sure you've put a lot of thought and work into it but IMO the underlying concept itself is somewhat flawed.

More precisely, I prefer clean simple designs, simple fonts, etc. I also don't particularly like black backgrounds (but I could deal with it if otherwise the design was a little more mature). What I particularly dislike are the chalky fonts. They remind me very strongly of Comic Sans and I think I've become allergic to anything similar.

Sorry for the criticism. If the design was merely an art to be looked at, I'd like it very much. But if I am to use this site daily and will have to endure looking at those fonts all the time, I think it'll kill me sooner or later :)

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  • $\begingroup$ yes, I agree completely on this. Professional people are only interested in functionality and a "theme" is really there to attract the artistic and children. $\endgroup$ – John McVirgo Feb 24 '11 at 22:28
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Like Marek, I absolutely hate the chalkboard font. That's my only complaint -- I actually don't have strong feelings about the white-on-black design, for instance -- but I really don't like that font.

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Looking for blackboard inspirations without crayon look, one is only left with AMS Euler... $\endgroup$ – user68 Feb 20 '11 at 1:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'd much rather not have the font explicitly reflect this design choice. To me, a good font is one that you don't notice at all, not one that draws attention to itself as a design choice. $\endgroup$ – Ted Bunn Feb 20 '11 at 15:30
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is a good remark about the body text, here we talk about headers and tabs which just must be noticeable to allow flawless navigation. That's why decoration is justified (and necessary). $\endgroup$ – user68 Feb 21 '11 at 21:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Not surprisingly, I disagree with @mbq. I certainly agree that the use of different fonts for different types of text (headers, navigation, body) is helpful. But it works best when it happens "in the background," so that the user's attention isn't consciously drawn to the choice of font. It seems to me that that's what you find at virtually any well-designed Web site (or for that matter print magazine). If you find yourself noticing the font qua font, then you're being distracted. That's what the chalkboard font does for me. $\endgroup$ – Ted Bunn Feb 22 '11 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ I personally really like the chalk choice...but I am nobody here, I just read Lubos' and Marek's answers ;) $\endgroup$ – Uticensis Feb 24 '11 at 3:12
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I find that it is difficult to concentrate for long trying to read white print on a black background. I do not like it at all and find that rather than being drawn to the stack, I want to navigate away from it. I hope it is not going to stay like this for long. You don't need "cute" design. The beta was fine. Go to mathstack and look at it for clarity and readability, then come back here and tell me you prefer this and find it easier to focus on the ideas.

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4
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If a dark background is hard to pull off properly, what about a whiteboard background, with colored marker pen fonts?

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Programmers SE already has such. $\endgroup$ – user68 Feb 19 '11 at 18:11
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For those who dislike black background - make sure that you view the images at 100% zoom. Since the blackboard is not really black and the text is completely white, I find the contrast very comfortable. I like the idea of giving unique look to our site and I would like to see how the blackboard design works out.

Small remark: bright red color of Add buttons does not fit to the color scheme.

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  • $\begingroup$ The button style is definitely not part of the "blackboard/chalk" theme. It was intentional since the button needs a strong affordance. I tried an "Eraser" look first, but it didn't look right. $\endgroup$ – Jin Feb 19 '11 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ Did you look at a white site directly after looking at this for a minute or two? @Jin: What about magnets instead? $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 22 '11 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Tobias: yes, I did and it was not an issue for me. It might depend on the brightness settings of your monitor - I prefer lower levels closer to sRGB standard, but default values on many monitors are very high. $\endgroup$ – gigacyan Feb 22 '11 at 16:12
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edit: Based on extensive meta feedback, site design is withdrawn indefinitely.

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Well, well done!

I must admit that, as for a physics site, where no non-embarrassing nor non-controversial global symbols exists, the blackboard is a very good rejoinder (although it scared me at first because of my chalk-allergy ;-) ).

I agree that the footer is too visible in handwrite, it definitely should go in the text font as on other sites.

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1
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When I've got my laptop on my belly late at night, the only way I can find the keys is by the light emitted by the display. So a black background is quite inconvenient.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ if it's a LCD, then it's backlit regardless, so it should be emitting plenty of light. But I am no physicist :) $\endgroup$ – Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 7:15
  • $\begingroup$ In case you're serious about this, I'd strongly recommend you use some ambient light as well, if you really like your eyes... In case you're not: +1 :p $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 22 '11 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeff obviously, a black screen is emitting darkness(TM) instead of light $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Feb 22 '11 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ The backlighting on an LCD isn't visible when the image is black. As the owner of the laptop in question, and as a long time video/graphics engineer, of course I know this for certain. I find the new colors distracting and unpleasant. $\endgroup$ – Carl Brannen Feb 25 '11 at 0:25
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When posting an answer, I get a very white glow, can this be corrected? :-)

enter image description here

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ that was a bug, and it's been fixed. $\endgroup$ – Jin Feb 24 '11 at 22:33
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The Red button hurts my eyes.

To me the black BG seems fine but the heading font choice does look kinda childish. Although I doubt a normal clean font will fit in with a blackboard. Font should be changed, But changed to What, I dont know.

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