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Implementing Dark Mode: How to Make Your Design Look Good with a Black Background

Almost 90% of users prefer dark mode to light mode, according to a survey by UX Design. How can you make sure your users have the best dark mode experience?

What is dark mode?

Dark mode is a setting on a UI, usually one users can toggle, which typically consists of a dark background and light text. This is in contrast to the more commonly used light mode, which tends to have a light background and dark text.

The popularity of dark mode

When users are presented with the option to choose between dark mode and light mode, they tend to pick the former en masse. As a result of this, more and more websites and apps have begun rolling out darker variants of their own designs.

Examples of popular sites that have opted to include a dark mode option are:

  • Youtube—both on desktop and the app
  • Instagram—on iOS, Android, and
  • Meta—on iOS, Android, and the website
  • Gmail—on iOS, Android, and
  • Google Chrome, and Chrome Windows
  • Firefox
  • Twitch
  • WhatsApp
  • Snapchat

These are among the 283 UX designs which provide a dark mode feature across the top US companies. 

In addition, both Mac and Windows have an option to switch on dark mode for the entire operating system. Mac began offering dark mode in iOS 13, and Google with Android 10. The choice between dark mode and light mode is usually given when you first open your new device for the first time. It is also offered by the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and the PS4.

Benefits of dark mode

Image: A computer screen displaying a website in dark mode.
Dark mode can help with readability at night time.

Low light settings

Dark mode can be better for using your devices in low-light settings, not just for you but for the people around you. The interface will better blend in with your surroundings and be less shocking to your eyes. Additionally, you won’t bother other people as much by having your screen on, if, for example, you are using it in bed with your partner, or on a plane where people may be trying to sleep.

Better sleep

Bright lights reduce your brain’s production of melatonin, which is the chemical that signals your body to sleep. Specifically, blue light from devices is known to offset melatonin production. Setting your phone to dark mode reduces the amount of blue light you are exposed to, which can be useful if your phone is keeping you up at night.

More energy efficient

Having your device on dark mode can greatly conserve its battery life. In fact, when a device is at full brightness, using dark mode can save as much as 47% of its battery! Not only is this more convenient for your specific device, but it can also help in reducing your carbon footprint (albeit slightly) and shrinking the world’s overall energy consumption.

Reduces eye strain and dry eyes

In conditions with low light, light mode can cause eyes to dry out and often ache from overuse. This is, yet again, due to the presence of blue light being emitted from devices. Not only does dark mode help your sleep by reducing blue light, but it can also prevent your eyes from being strained. Additionally, dark mode can reduce the chance of other problems developing, such as worsening vision and, potentially, macular degeneration.

More accessible

People with visual impairments may find dark mode easier to read. 

Although dark mode can help negate some of the negative effects of staring at a screen, it cannot entirely eliminate the chance of these consequences occurring. 

Can light mode also be advantageous?

Even though users seem to prefer dark mode in some circumstances, light mode is not without its benefits. Light mode can be more readable—since most of us learned to read with dark text on a light background, light mode is easier for us to process. In addition, when using your devices outdoors, light mode can be more useful. For example, if the sun is shining directly down on your device, it’s easier to pick out black text than white text.

Many users also opt to use light mode during the day and dark mode at night. This can have the effect of helping people maintain their sleeping patterns, as well as allow them to avoid straining their eyes. 

Dark mode statistics

So, dark mode is very popular across all devices, apps, and websites. But these statistics vary between specific platforms. 

For example, email users actually prefer to use light mode, with only 34% of users opting to view their mail in dark mode. Logos and graphics in emails also do not gel well with light mode. Most logos, for instance, have a white background—when an email with this kind of logo is received in dark mode, it tends to look out-of-place and unprofessional. 

For TikTok and many other social media apps, on the other hand, dark mode is the more popular option. TikTok boasts about two-thirds of its billion-strong user base using dark mode. 

Reddit, to an even greater extent, sees about 80% of its users navigating its UI in dark mode.

Perhaps this trend of social media users preferring dark mode is due to the amount of time users spend on these apps compared to something like emails. When you’re on an UI for multiple hours, your eyes will begin straining. Dark mode negates this effect (to an extent).

This can be seen even more clearly with the example of Kindle and other electronic reading devices. 85% of Kindle users use dark mode while reading. Staring at a white page is more irritating to the eye than a black page with white text, so the reasoning behind this preference is clear.

Even though many users prefer dark mode in general, light mode and dark mode both have strengths for different platforms. For UI that doesn’t intend to be used for long periods of time, light mode can be just as advantageous as dark mode. In fact, it might be better at capturing user attention.

So, how can you best implement dark mode?

Creating dark mode design

Image: a search engine using dark mode.
It’s not a good idea to use pure white or pure black in your dark mode design.

You can’t just view dark mode as an inverted version of light mode. A dark background has different aesthetic requirements, and to successfully implement dark mode design, you may need to tweak your UI beyond just making the text white and the background black. 

  1. Avoid using pure white fonts. Pure white fonts can be straining to the eye, especially when placed on an entirely black background. Consider using an off-white color, such as light gray or brown. Even better, use a light version of color easily associated with your brand. 

  1. Avoid using a pure black background. Just like pure white fonts, pure black backgrounds can be hard to look at, and it’s difficult to have anything contrast satisfyingly with them. Additionally, Instead of using a dark gray, consider customizing your dark background to your UI. For example, if a key color in your logo is purple, using a dark purple as the basis of your dark mode can provide a more personalized UI.

  1. Don’t use many vibrant colors. Lighter colors that are less saturated are the easiest to look at on dark backgrounds.

  1. Avoid using shadows. On dark backgrounds, shadows don’t show up, so you simply can’t use them for emphasis the way you would in light mode. Instead, try to utilize light in its place. Light can be used to show depth, elevation, and emphasis, among other things.

  1. Use a strong, but not overwhelming, contrast. On a dark background, the colors that work best are light and muted.

  1. Use opacity. To show emphasis in dark mode, you can control the opacity of your text. A subtitle or caption could be at lower opacity than main text, which could be lower than titles and headings.

  1. Check your images. Sometimes, a dark background can cause your pre-existing images to seem lower contrast. Make sure the images in your UI do not look too out-of-place when shifted to dark mode. If they are, consider adding a filter broadly across all your images.

  1. Make sure focus indicators are still visible in dark mode. Be sure all the small details of your UI are updated to suit dark mode, by changing them to brighter colors.

  1. Pay attention to accessibility color standards. By using color accessibility standards, you will be guaranteed a pleasing contrast. In addition, you will also be increasing your user-friendliness.

  1. Allow your users to choose. Let your users toggle between light mode and dark mode, if applicable. If your users have this option, be sure to utilize pleasing transitions between dark and light mode.

  1. Be aware of the tone a dark theme conveys. Don’t allow your brand’s personality to be overtaken by the dark theme. Dark themes can convey mysteriousness, and they are often associated with harder sciences, such as coding, technology, and engineering. If your UI is trying to bring about a softer, safer feeling, take special effort to make your dark mode reflect this.

  1. Test your designs. Before releasing your dark mode design, be sure to test it with beta audiences, in both high and low-light environments.

Dark mode design is becoming increasingly popular, and it has many benefits for users. If you’re looking for more UI tips, UXAX’s team of consultants can help bring your UI to the next level.

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