Special Graphic Effects

Do not use drop-shadow or any other special graphic effects on screenshots. Every component of information design, whether textual or visual, should play a role in communicating concepts to the user. If a component does not convey a concept, then the component adds to the processing burden for the user without bringing any extra understanding. Essentially, decorative components reduce communication effectiveness.

Avoid special graphic effects for the following reasons:

  • Any non-essential visual or textual information can distract a user, or even confuse a user.
  • Screenshots should appear as close as possible to what the user really sees on-screen. There are no drop-shadows around windows on-screen.
  • Drop-shadows as pure decoration please some people. Others might see such decoration as an attempt to glamorize a dull topic.
  • Many icons use drop-shadows. You might want to include screenshots of these icons in the documentation. If you add drop-shadows to your application screenshots, you risk devaluing drop-shadows on icons. Also, the use of drop-shadows for different purposes can confuse the user.