Making Sure Your Forum Is Readable

Let’s talk for a minute about your forum.  What theme are you using?  Did you know you can change your theme?  What’s a theme?

Well, these are all good questions, but the answers are very easy.  Let’s tackle them.

What’s a theme?

A theme, or also a Style, is the overall look and feel of your forum.  It’s the color of the background, the size and font of the text, and the buttons and symbols that tell the users what the various features of the forum do.

All forums come with a default theme.  If you are using phpBB that’s going to be something like Pro Silver.  It’s a pretty good theme on its own.  It’s easy to read, and it looks nice.  But it’s not very personal.  There are literally thousands of sites out there that use this default theme.  Why not make yours a little more unique?

Changing your theme

Once you’ve decided that you are going to be changing up the look and feel of your forum you’ll first need to find a site that offers new themes for you to browse.  These are all over the place, and a google search will usually provide all the relevant links you could need.

http://www.phpbb3styles.net/ is a good place to start.  If you are using a vbulletin or invision board try these:

http://www.inkdropstyles.com/

http://www.themesbase.com/vBulletin-Skins/

What theme are you using?  Is it good?

When you start looking through these theme sites it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed.  The are a lot of designs out there, and it will take some time and a lot of research before you can really settle on a theme that suits your needs.

One of the things to be careful about is to not be hasty and choose a theme that you think looks “awesome” or “cool” just on it’s own.  It may seem that way at first, but over time a lot of the very eye-catching or fancy looking themes begin to distract from the overall function of your forum.  If you use colors that do not compliment themselves well your users may have a hard time spending a lot of time on your forum because they will begin to develop eye strain from staring at difficult to read text.

You also need to make sure your fonts are not too unusual.  There are a variety of standard fonts that are used for most sites on the internet, and it’s a good idea to stick to them.  Some kind of Arial or Verdana font is pretty nice.

Let’s look at an example of a bad theme (or style).

http://demo.phpbb3styles.net/AcidTech+Red

This demo seems very eye catching at first, but over time it will cause the user’s eyes to become strained due to the color clash of black on red.   Additionally, it’s more difficult to red the dark read text on the grayish black background than it would be to read the more traditional white on black text. Overall it’s a bad idea to use darkly colored text on a dark background.

This is a good theme:

http://demo.phpbb3styles.net/1BlackOut

This is another dark looking forum style.  However, in this case it uses yellow text.  Did you know that yellow and black are the two  most contrasting colors?  This is why many highway signs use these colors.  In this case it makes the different categories of the forum easy to read and navigate, and it’s also easy the user’s eyes over the long term.  If you go further into the forum you’ll see that the other text is a light gray on a dark grey background.  This is a mistake.  Although light grey on dark grey is great for the more obscure elements of the forum such as the post date, or the users post count, the body of text in each post should have been white.

This is a great theme:

http://demo.phpbb3styles.net/4poziom

Here you can see that the user has again employed the yellow+black combination, but this time it’s a more neutral gray color than a dark black.  This works better because having a deep black causes the image to be too contrasty and the user will develop eye strain again.  Additionally the lighter gray will display more accurately across a wider variety of devices.  Many cheaper or low end LCD monitors cannot display a true dark black, so in this case the lighter color will enable you to be sure that your original design is what the user sees.

And of course the user here has opted for the white text on the grey background.  This is a great combination because it is easy to read, but still projects a stylish quality.  It’s better than black text on a white background.  Something about a white on black just says this is an internet forum that black on white cannot communicate.   By using this color scheme your users will be put into a state of mind that they can speak freely and enjoy the atmosphere of your forum, which is certainly a place where the cool kids hang out.

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