Syntax coloring is Evil

I was just configuring an Apache server on a freshly purchased and installed version of RedHat9. I fired up vi (one of my favorite editors) to edit httpd.conf and what came up was an incomprehensible riot of color. Red9 comes preconfigured with vim as the replacement for vi, and along with it comes a huge pile of standard syntax coloring tables. The coloring table that httpd.conf hit was particularly odd: it used this bright unsaturated teal-ish color for keywords, on a pale yellow background. This made the keywords almost invisible. All of the other colors were similarly odd.

One of the mistakes that I've made over and over again, as a left-brained engineer, is to tread into tasks that really require right-brain artistic skills. Very talented people have spent their whole careers just picking colors. For us left-brainers, this is an almost incomprehensible situation: how could anyone spend so much time on something so trivial? Just pick some numbers and go for it. But it really does matter. There is a real talent to user interface design: art, aesthetics, ergonomics, cognitive function.... and all the rest.

It's nice to see the work of folks with artistic talent show up on the desktop. We need more.

November 13, 2003