What Is Dark Mode & Is It Better For Users?

20th February 2020

The average screen time in the UK is 3 hours and 23 minutes, with usage skewing significantly for younger people who use their screens far more than this. As a result of increased screen usage, some commentators have argued that a solution needs to be found to arrest any potential damage caused to peoples’ eyes by screens. 

One possible remedy is dark mode, a setting that allows users to switch the contrast on their apps to reduce the amount of bright light they see. The provenance of dark mode has even led certain apps to developed with this design at the forefront of UX considerations.

But despite the perceived benefits, the science behind dark mode has led many to ask whether it is merely an aesthetic fix that will do little to change the effect on our vision.

What Is Dark Mode?

Dark mode is a setting found on many phones, tablets and computers that changes the background on apps and operating systems from a light colour to a much darker hue. It has been argued that dark mode could help reduce the strain on the eyes caused by staring at screens all day.

All your apps such as Booking.com shown here will also enter dark mode when you switch to the dark side!

These assertions are far from conjecture, as recent academic research has shown that screen brightness can have a significant impact on performance. However, certain sources have called into question the suitability of dark mode as a solution to this issue.

Does This Mean That The Light From Screens Is Bad For My Eyes?

Before getting into the benefits and drawbacks of dark mode, let’s first establish why gazing at a bright screen is bad for your eyes without getting too scientific.

The white light emanating from our laptops and phones is from the blue end of the visible light spectrum. In turn, this means that the light has a shorter wavelength and thus more energy, unlike light from the other end of the spectrum (visible as red or orange light), which has a longer wavelength and less energy. 

For this reason, your eyes can become fatigued or irritated after looking at a screen for too long. Some people also say that they have difficulty focusing as a result of using screens for an excessive amount of time. Over a much more extended period, retinas can become damaged by blue light, leading to macular degeneration in later life. 

However, it is important to note that the greater energy in this light does not necessarily cause a problem for your eyes, as there is far more of this blue light in regular sunlight than that coming from screens.

So Does Using Dark Mode Make A Difference?

The usual cavalcade of techies assert that dark mode is a good feature for users, albeit with different party lines being trotted out. 

Although, getting scientific, when it comes to comprehension (and by proxy the level of fatigue which you can expect from your screen time), utilising a dark backdrop makes very little difference. It can be surmised from the vast body of research that contrast is far more important than colour when it comes to reading text. Some research has even shown that for specific tasks, a black background with white text will result in poorer performance.

It should be noted that most UX experts advise using a very dark grey rather than black for any apps that have night mode functionality (more on this in a moment). Still, the message is clear nonetheless that using dark mode won’t necessarily help you feel fatigued when using screens. 

With all this being said, you shouldn’t write off dark mode altogether. One of the bonuses chorused by Apple and the like is that dark mode can be really good for UX in that it uses less battery and is a positive from an accessibility perspective for people who are sensitive to bright light. The UX factor in this regard will be more key for some apps than others. 

For example, a weight loss app which is used fleetingly throughout the day will have little need to conserve your battery; however, a driver’s app that aids companies with their deliveries would benefit hugely from being able to increase the periods between charging.

UX Considerations For Dark Mode

Here are a few pointers worth considering before going ahead with a dark mode-style design for your app or website.

Contrast Matters

As mentioned above, creating a contrast between the background and the text is crucial if you want people to be able to read the copy easily. Having a black background is not the way to go about this either, with the effect of using black rather than dark grey being that the edges of the words become blurred, thereby making them tough to read

Cohesion With Brand

Using a darker background will undoubtedly impact how your brand is perceived, not only in terms of its distinctive assets but more importantly, concerning the logo. Many brand books will refer to “greyed out” versions of logos for use on black and white documents, and these can be helpful. However, it would help if you still considered whether the logo would get lost with this palette. 

Additionally, it would be best if you considered whether the logo has a border as this may make the logo much easier or harder to spot. This is also a crucial consideration if your site or app features logos of many other brands on a lot of pages (e.g. price comparison sites).

User Expectations

While creating a dark mode for an app or website might seem a good idea, it’s a good idea to think about what your consumers will expect from you, and this also works the other way if you’re thinking of moving from a darker interface to a lighter one. To use an example of a brand switching from dark mode to light, the old Apple TV used a dark mode, but for the new tvOS 10, they switched to a light interface. 

Some people think dark mode is more aesthetically pleasing.

However, the reaction was very negative as people found this far too bright and jarring compared to the older operating system, and ultimately Apple was forced to release a dark mode in one of the updates. The crux of the matter here is that you must consider if changing the whole interface will genuinely be of benefit to the user or if it is just an aesthetic switch.

The best way to assess a change like this would be to either conduct user testing on the new product or to make the dark mode an optional feature rather than a permanent change.

In Summary

Dark mode has certain benefits when it comes to UX depending on the nature of your app or website, but product owners shouldn’t be flocking to it with the idea that it will eventually become the norm. The benefits compared to traditional interfaces aren’t that tangible, meaning that for now, it should be seen as a “nice to have” rather than an essential feature. 

Think your app needs some redevelopment? Considering a move to dark mode? Talk with one of our team today to find out how we could help you!


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