Background Images with repeated patterns, especially coats of arms

+29 votes
A number of earlier aristocratic profiles have a repeated coat of arms as a background image. I hope WT members will not be upset if I mention that for some (quite likely only a small minority) of us, these can literally be very painful to look at. I am not alone in this - I have seen a comment placed by another WT member on one profile. In my own case, they can cause acute visual disturbances and migraine, and make it very hard indeed to read the profile.

For me, it is particularly bad where the coat of arms itself consists of a repeated pattern like small squares. The effect on me is similar to that induced by the works of the abstract painter Bridget Riley - I not only get visual disturbances and migraine, I also feel physically disoriented, giddy and sick.

I fully understand why some members like to use a coat of arms as a background image. But is there any chance members could be sensitive to the problems that their use can cause a probably small minority of us?

Just for the avoidance of doubt, I - and I think others - have no problems with the use of a coat of arms as an ordinary image on a profile. It is where it is used as a background image, which means there is a very prominent repeated pattern around the profile, that problems are caused.

Thank you so much for being prepared to read this, and I am really sorry to sound like a spoilsport.
in Policy and Style by Michael Cayley G2G6 Mach 6 (63.1k points)
reshown ago by Liz Shifflett
Michael, you are not a spoilsport!  This is a useful discussion.  Thank you for starting it.

13 Answers

+19 votes

Just about every picture looks awful as a tiled background.  Inevitably, they are distracting and disjointed and do not add to the appearance of a profile.

That said, backgrounds can used to greatly add to the visual appearance of a profile.  However, they need to be designed to be tiled and seamless.  The more subtle the better.  There are many places you can get good seamless backgrounds for use on webpages, including here on wikitree.

by Joe Cochoit G2G6 Pilot (188k points)
+23 votes
I agree with you, Michael.  If I come across these profiles, I often have to 'read' through all the code on the Edit tab, because that doesn't have the background! Otherwise, I leave that profile as fast as I can. Not good for a pre-1500 person...
by Ros Haywood G2G6 Pilot (847k points)
Thanks, Ros. As I am likely to be reviewing or editing the profile for the Magna Carta Project, it is a real difficulty for me.
+13 votes
Would be nice if one could set "Do not display background images" in our account settings.

I also find that it's not just a question of "personal preference" since they actually impede usability.
by Joe Murray G2G3 (3.8k points)
+9 votes
I totally support your request and although not affected physically as you are, I also find them distracting.

A work around that works for me, is to attach my laptop to a much larger monitor/screen, and then have two windows open side by side.  Opening a WikiTree profile in this view, doesn't much affect the working space, but doesn't include any background images.  The second window I then use to open whatever sources etc I might be using to create/edit the profile.

Obviously this only works when I am home, not when I'm elsewhere, travelling etc.
by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (385k points)
+11 votes
Michael, these bright, intrusive backgrounds may be painful for a small minority, but I think they are distracting for most people.  Often backgrounds on WikiTree profiles detract from the presentation of the page rather than improve it.  Some are a real visual assault.

Subtle backgrounds are sometimes nice, but I think people who add backgrounds should ask themselves "What is the first thing I see when I click on this profile?"  It shouldn't be the background.
by Julie Kelts G2G6 Pilot (169k points)
+12 votes

WikiTree has a policy on this sort of thing. It can be found at Help:Profile_Aesthetics.

by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1m points)
Thanks, Ellen.  I looked for WikiTree guidance but couldn't find it.
I see that the policy states:

''...if any descendant objects to the use of a background image, it should be removed and not replaced."

Many pre-1700 profiles would have hundreds, if not thousands of descendants, at least one of whom is likely to prefer not to have a background image.

So in most cases it would seem better not to use them on older profiles at all.
Yes, Nick!  Thanks.
+16 votes

For those who use the Chrome browser, there is a browser extension called Stylebot that can hide ALL background images from Wikitree (just for you - no change is made to the actual profile).

Full credit to Steve Harris who mentioned this on another post and has produced this Free-Space Page explaining how it works.

I have just tried it and background images are now gone for me!

by Nic Donnelly G2G6 Mach 3 (35.5k points)
+8 votes

I don't use Chrome, but good to know that it has a setting to block background images. Ellen mentioned the Help:Profile_Aesthetics page. There's also a separate help page for Background Images that notes: "Background images are not visible for smart phone users." (FYI for those who WikiTree from their phone.)

Nic noted that the Aesthetics policy says to remove the background image if a descendant objects, and that pre-1700 profiles would have thousands of descendants. While probably we could assume one might object, I don't think banning background images is ideal. However...

When Michael first mentioned this, I got to thinking that it would be appropriate to include project-specific policy that refines WikiTree policy (similar to how project-specific name field guidelines refine WikiTree policy).

Since Magna Carta Project co-manages so many profiles with other projects, I'll post a new G2G message over the weekend, but wanted to float the basic idea here. I think what would work is to restrict background images to ones that tile seamlessly, as Joe suggested, and specifically say not use a portrait or a coat of arms as the background image, even though such images are appropriate as the primary image.

Cheers, Liz

by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (364k points)
edited by Liz Shifflett
Liz, I don't really have any say in what the Magna Carta project does, but just as a general comment, I think very bright and very dark colors are the most distracting.  For people who want to go to the trouble, I think software like iPhoto has options for dimming or graying images.
thanks Julie - I've been thinking of adding some background images to the Magna Carta Project page with images... or maybe a Space page (since we "park" images removed from profiles [e.g., because it's not the right coat of arms for the person portrayed by the profile, or the portrait is of someone else]. I was thinking of just adding something about background images to the project's checklist, but perhaps whatever's added there could link to a space page with details & suggested backgrounds.

If you see any profiles with a background you think is good, could you share the link to give me some ideas?
Liz, you know how hard it is to find something like that when you are looking for it!  Here is the only one I've ever done:

Here is one SJ Baty did:

I recall SJ having done some nice backgrounds, and he has made several G2G posts about his various techniques.  

Update:  See SJ's posts elsewhere on this thread.
Actually, I like very dark images.  They then stay in the background, while making the white of the main window 'pop' out at the viewer.
If you use light or grey backgrounds, then I spend most of my time trying to adjust my vision to where the main window ends and the background begins.  Distracting.
Do you have some examples, Ros (of both)?
My own profile is an example of a dark background:

Here is an example of a light grey texture.

Yes, you can see where one ends and one begins, but for those of us with vision problems, it is so much better to have vivid contrast.
Thank you, Ros.  I guess this illustrates the problems we (or Liz) will have in developing a set of guidelines.  Because I think the light gray background is pleasant, but for my taste, your own dark background provides a distracting amount of contrast.  (Sorry!)

P.S.  I suppose that might also depend on what else is in the background on your computer desktop at the time, or whether you are using some other device (I never do).  So for me, when I view your profile, your background is by far the darkest thing anywhere on my screen.
Y'all are awesome! Thanks so much! (Ros - I can sympathize - I can't tell the difference between a followed link/not followed link in WikiTree feeds... the green & black used look the same to me unless I look really, really hard.)
FWIW - I have vision problems, so my computer resolution is on a "not recommended" setting to make everything bigger (desktop icons, for example). I also keep window size at 110%, which is enough width to mostly obliterate any background that might be there ... I get maybe a couple centimeters, 1/16th of an inch border on the sides.

There's one background used on a Magna Carta Project profile that has always seemed out of place to me, but I've grown to like it over the years... and of course I can't find it now (it's vines/roses - reminds me of my grandma's wallpaper).
Liz, given that so many of us WikiTreers are old, it might be worth asking in your post how many people are dealing with vision problems that could be affected by backgrounds.  

(Edited for brevity.)

I'll agree with Ros as I like dark backgrounds - I think that they highlight the text of the bio.  If some folks are finding the text too "bright" when the background is dark, I suggest dimming the screen a bit.  Most people have their monitors on full bright and this is usually never a great idea.  The optimal brightness is just bright enough to read clearly: set your computer to all the way dim and slowly raise the brightness and when it goes from "too dark" to "quite readable," stop.  You'll often find that 30-60% brightness is more comfortable.  I'm currently at the nex to to lowest brightness setting (~ 20%) as I'm in a dark lit room.

I like background images but only when they are pleasant to look at (in the eye of the beholder no doubt!) and not too gawdy.  A small arms repeated as a checkerboard is - in my opinion - horrible to look at and gives me a headache as the OP suggested.

Here are a few that I have and I'm curious to know what y'all think about them:

5x great-grandmother knitted a coverlet when she was 13 years old.  I rotated and cropped part off the coverlet and then stitched it together to make a background image:

I also like old maps and think they make great backgrounds.  Here is an example:

And American stars against a navy blue background for a patriot ancestor:

There are a lot of background images here and most are in the "tasteful" category:

I am particularly fond of Rose's contributions:'s%20Colonial%20Backgrounds's%20Patriot%20Backgrounds

Thank you, SJ!

As for the brightness setting--you are young!  For me, the brighter, the better.
The coverlet - sorry, but aaaargh! Makes my eyes water with all those lines and squares.  Seems like the lovely old quilt unfortunately has the same effect as the multi-repeat coats of arms.  I feel a little queasy.

The others are OK, but I still think one colour or texture...

My favourites are Joelle's backgrounds:'s_Backgrounds
Ros, I agree, that image is difficult for those with astigmatism. The more subtle the background, the better, in my opinion.
+8 votes

I deliberately and very consciously did not mention aesthetics when I started this thread. But, if I can try and summarise what others have been saying (and personally I agree with them), any background images should be just that - background. That means they ought to be restrained and not dominate the page. Leaving aside the adverse physical effects on a small minority, one trouble with things like tiled coats of arms as background is that they do dominate and distract, effectively becoming foreground images, making the text on the page visually secondary.

Think of a painting. Most of us wouldn’t want the frame to take attention away from the artwork.

by Michael Cayley G2G6 Mach 6 (63.1k points)
I think of the background as more like the matting for a framed photograph - you want matting and photo (and frame) to work together to showcase the photo... e.g., using a color from the coat of arms as background (graytone if too bold/bright/dark).
+5 votes
I just edit the profile to remove such a background. No one has complained or reinstated them.
by Chris Gilbert G2G6 Mach 1 (13.2k points)
Good job!
Chris, have you encountered profiles for which you can't find the background image (i.e., it's not among the profile's images)?
May well have done at first as it can be a faff to find the setting or whatever to remove the background or images.

Here is another G2G thread about that:  

Update:  Don't bother to check that link.  Just see below.

If you right click any background and "inspect" (that's the term for Chrome, might be different for other browsers) you'll get all sorts of data to include the URL to the image.
Now you tell us!  For anyone who wants to try that:  On a Mac, press the Control button while clicking the mouse.  I got that to work on Chrome but not Safari.

I was interested to see, when I switched to Chrome, that the page's border (the background) was much wider and more prominent than on Safari.  I wonder how much of the difference in background preferences is attributable to different browsers.
+8 votes
I've posted a proposed Magna Carta Project policy - please see

ago by Liz Shifflett G2G6 Pilot (364k points)
+6 votes
Yes. Yes. Yes Michael.

By the way many of the background tiles are inappropriate coats of arms or photographs of castles etc., which is then difficult to even cross check.

I am really happy to see some common sense turning into a consensus and actions here!!
ago by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Mach 8 (85.6k points)
+1 vote
This is not just a discussion about COAs or repetitive images that might be visually noxious to some. Personally, I think relevant background images (COAs, maps, battles, etc) enhance profiles; however,  I have been verbally spanked for adding relevant photos, etc. as background for a few profiles of ancestors, so now only add background to profiles for which I am PM.

If background images are an issue, then Wikitree might want to do away with the background image choice altogether.  

There are a lot of profiles on Wikitree. Perhaps when it comes to 'background' the link for 'background image' should be done away with and only COAs, etc. be used as Primary photos only. This would also add to the amount of 'cloud' space for more profiles.
ago by Carol Baldwin G2G6 Pilot (166k points)

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