It’s the User Experience (UX) debate of our time – which is better, Light Mode or Dark Mode? Considering the overwhelming popularity of Dark Mode during the past few years, it might seem strange to even ask. Sometimes dark mode is forced on the user, whilst others it is added as a user selectable option – but what are the reasons behind this sweeping change? What are the consequences of Dark Mode in terms of usability? And are there circumstances where one mode is objectively better than the other? We decided to investigate the answers to these questions with a deep dive into the pros and cons of Dark Mode – the answers could surprise you.

Rewind: The Origins of Dark Mode

Older computer users may remember the days of MS-DOS, the predecessor to our modern Windows personal computers. The MS-DOS user experience is nothing of archaic today – simple grey text on a black background, where every function you wish the computer to perform must be requested by means of long, sometimes complex strings of textual commands, options, and switches.

It doesn’t sound like something many of the computer users of today would want to rush back to, so what is going on here? Most analysts agree that the current dark mode craze began with computer programmers, the people who are likely to be staring at a screen for most of their day – every day. These users found that battery life can be significantly extended by using as little light as possible on their displays, but the darker user interface was also easier on their eyes.

The Switch

Around the time that Microsoft Windows took over as the dominant personal computer operating system a profound switch occurred in terms of user interface design. Battery life wasn’t an issue yet – laptops were not yet commonplace; smartphones and tablets had yet to be invented. Black text on a white background imitated the look of a regular printed page, and seeing those pages represented accurately on a computer screen seemed somewhat futuristic at the time.

It’s also said that black text on a white background is better for the human eye – these are the colour properties that suit eyes best, apparently, whereas white text on a black background – AKA dark mode – supposedly makes the eyes work harder and open wider. That’s the opinion of vision experts who have been consulted on this matter in recent years, yet a huge chunk of computer users insist that dark mode increases readability.

Whether it be YouTube and other video streaming services, or the entirety of the Android smartphone user experience; everyone seems to have added a Dark Mode or at least a combination of black and white to their software interface recently. Even the iGaming industry pays special attention to the user interface, because it plays an important role in attracting new customers. According to some studies related to the use of colours in online casinos, it has been shown that there is an increased interaction from men with games such as 32Red roulette online. The combination of red and black indicates the presence of a strong, reliable and male-dominated operator, while the combination of white and gold attracts more female players.

Readability & Eye Strain

Surveys of large numbers of computer programmers confirms that this category of computer user overwhelmingly prefers to use dark mode, with the most common reason for doing so being that they feel it is far easier on their eyes over extended periods of time. This is especially true at night when working in the dark, as extremely bright screens in a dimly lit room have been linked to nearsightedness. Furthermore, using your computer in dark mode will also reduce the amount of blue light that is absorbed by your eyes, something which has been proven to affect the body’s circadian rhythms.

Anna Cox, a professor of human-computer interaction, has gone on the record to say that there is much more to readability than one might think. Cox states that it is the contrast between the light and dark text which affects how readable text appears to the human eye. The extra light of a white background makes it easier for our eyes to read black text despite the very high levels of contrast, which explains why many fans of dark mode prefer text to be a light grey as opposed to full-on white.

So, should you use Dark Mode?

As with so many things in life, the answer seems to be: “it’s complicated”. If you are going to be using a computer to read large amounts of text, the evidence does seem to point towards dark mode being potentially beneficial. This is especially true if you are a hardcore software developer who works well into the early hours on a regular basis!

On the other hand, if using a computer or other device to read text forms a smaller part of your daily routine, it may be better to stick with the more traditional dark text on a lighter background. If you are worried about the issue or already have issues with your eyesight, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor or optician about this to find out what the most up-to-date scientific consensus on the issue is.

About the Author

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Mirko Humbert

Mirko Humbert is the editor-in-chief and main author of Designer Daily and Typography Daily. He is also a graphic designer and the founder of WP Expert.