One Size Rarely Fits All
Picking editorial for VSM can generate controversy.
You're never going to please everyone in life, no matter what you do. That holds true if you're the editor of a magazine, the lead architect of a large team of developers, or the company that makes the best-selling desktop operating system in the world. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try—but it does mean you should understand that sometimes the things that appeal to one person alienate another.
Our primary mission at VSM is to help you do your job better, faster, and more easily. We take this mission seriously, and we filter every article we commission through the goals of this mission. Every so often, we like to run an article that follows through on that mission, yet also contributes to a sense of fun. The cover story for an upcoming issue, "Spice Up Your Windows Forms," reminds me of an article we ran several years ago written by Ward Hitt. "Say Goodbye to Battleship-Gray Forms" [March 1997] discussed tips for livening up the appearance of your forms, and included formulas for doing gradients and other tips that would give your forms a more distinctive look.
What sticks in my memory is the reaction to that article. I received letters from a couple people who ran teams of developers who said they would never let their developers use the techniques described in the article—not because they were unreliable, but because professionalism demanded that the applications their teams created be clothed in the battleship-gray Windows uniform.
But I also received letters from a couple other program leads who thanked me for running the article. Their take: The options for applying various color blends to forms would help their forms stand out from competitors. Battleship gray might be the uniform of Windows applications, but a lot of people associate that gray, boxy look with some poor-performing applications.
Both points are valid; one size rarely fits all. You need to do what your product requires. For example, a more conservative appearance can convey a sense of authority that is appropriate to some kinds of banking and financial applications. That said, products that enhance the look of user interfaces have long been among the most popular third-party tools available. There is no shortage of tools available that will help you modify, enhance, and otherwise manipulate the visual appearance of your applications. Yes, many of these tools provide interesting new functionality for your textboxes, grids, and other UI components, but others do little more than help you gussy up their appearance.
The danger, of course, is going overboard. Choose a poor color scheme, and you can make your applications harder to use or even induce eyestrain or fatigue in the customers who must use the application. But used judiciously and with a coherent sense of purpose, an attractive presentation can make your application easier to use and navigate.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.