Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Why Drop Shadows Don't (Always) Work.
Graphic design is not decoration; rather it is the facilitation of clear visual communications. Often, your first instinct might be to add a drop shadow to a headline, thinking the design would look too plain without it. The fact is drop shadows rarely improve a headline's appearance.

Consider the design's figure/ground color contrast relationship. Black is the darkest color, and white is the lightest color. The example below (left) already exhibits a strong color contrast between the display type and its background. Adding a gray drop shadow (right) reduces contrast thereby reducing legibility, making the headline harder to read.

That's not to say you should never use drop shadows. Given a low-contrast situation (as in yellow type on a green background), adding a slight shadow might actually improve contrast and legibility.

Which of the black and white examples above do you find easier to read, and which of the color samples below are more legible? See what I mean?


The next time you feel inclined to add a drop shadow onto your display type, consider its effect on the figure/ground color contrast. You might be surprised to discover the design works better without the drop shadow.