Slack Themes: There's more functionality built into these interfaces than you might think

Slack offers a number of themes to personalize the experience. One option is even based on "old school terminal displays," according to Slack.

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Over the last year, a vast suite of virtual collaboration tools has been critical as companies switched to remote work en masse. One such solution, the popular messaging service Slack, offers a number of features to help people personalize the experience such as creating custom emojis and changing the default notification alert, as well as a number of interfaces to deploy based on a person's preferences. Aesthetics aside, there's plenty of functionality built into these themes.

"One of our main goals when designing Slack is to make Slack a workplace tool that feels human, and seeing these themes add value, delight and enhances the human-centric experiences people have on Slack means we're reaching those goals," said Ethan Eismann Slack's VP of product design.

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Slack themes: Different themes for different folks

Simply put, people are particular about the way they like to work. Some prefer the open office for quick collaboration with colleagues, while others may favor the solitude and space to concentrate afforded by a pair of headphones and a playlist. Interestingly, certain themes may be better suited for specific workflows or lend themselves to particular positions.

"When designing and creating these themes, we found that certain members of our teams gravitated towards certain styles," Eismann said. "Some of our more technical colleagues would use themes like Nocturne or Terminal, which are inspired by old school terminal displays and provide a nice dark palette that's easy on the eyes."

Additionally, some folks on Slack's "creative side of things" preferred the "bolder and colorful" options such as Banana, said Anna Niess, staff product designer at Slack, explaining the "light style reminded them to keep things fun and playful." In general, Niess said the team noticed that people adopted "designs that fit their personalities, hobbies and backgrounds."

Aesthetics and functionality

There are a number of Slack themes to choose from, each with its own unique visual and operational appeal. This includes Hoth's clean white-out interface to those with more of a palette pop a la CMYK or darker options such as Nocturne. Eismann explained that a few of the designs are "nods" to artworks that inspired designers during their careers, pointing out the Mondrian theme as a hat-tip of sorts to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

"Another nod is CMYK, which is named and styled after the four ink plates used in color printing," he said.

Additionally, organizations have the option to add company colors across Slack themes, to "provide a larger sense of team spirit" on the platform, Eismann said. But there are more functional-minded options built into the collaboration tool. For example, Eismann explained that Tritanopia and Protanopia are intended to help people with conditions such as color blindness.

Light and dark mode environments

Within the individual themes, there's plenty of room for further customization. For example, each interface is also available in a light or dark mode, and some may prefer either setting for myriad reasons. These dual modes were created to allow people to "use Slack in whatever environment they need to," Eismann said. And these modes may also lend themselves to certain lifestyles or preferences.

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"A low-contrast style can provide a softer visual experience for those that spend their day within Slack, and helps save battery life for those on the go," Eismann said. "There is a dark mode version of every one of our default themes that changes along with your preferences, so you can keep that style but have it fit your environment."

But, what themes do the Slack pros use?

When asked if there is a particular theme they use and whether they mix it up from time to time, each representative had their own platform penchant. For example, Niess said she's been using Eggplant as of late, describing the interface as a "more contemporary update" to the company's "signature Aubergine."

"I switch between custom and default themes fairly often—I want to make sure I'm designing for what the majority of our customers use, and also stress test against some of our more creative palettes," she said. On the other hand, Eismann uses Sweet Treat and has for a while, explaining that the theme is a "great way to provide some positivity, levity and fun in my workspace" when he logs in.

"Whether you keep things simple with our default theme or choose a bolder theme like Discotheque, we create so people can bring their whole selves to work and enjoy a simpler, pleasant and more productive work life," Eismann said.

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