Darkish mode vs. mild mode: Each side of the UX debate


It’s difficult to find a lot of anything that people agree on these days. In politics, it’s red versus blue. In the superhero world, it’s Marvel vs. DC. In the royal family, it’s Kate versus Meghan. In the bathroom, it doesn’t matter whether the toilet paper goes over or under.

And in User Experience (UX) design, one of the ongoing debates is dark mode versus light mode. Which one is better? Whether you’re designing an app’s user interface or developing email, everyone seems to have an opinion. As the Setapp folks showed us on Twitter, “there are two types of people …”

Two types of people - display of interfaces in light and dark mode.

You will find passionate advocates on both sides, and there are plenty of facts and research on each argument. Let’s take a look at some of the most talked about topics.


Dark text on a white background (also known as light mode) became the standard for most digital interfaces with the advent of word processors that emulated the appearance of ink on paper.

One of the first thrusts that lovers of light mode make in dark mode is to claim that it is not ideal for readability. The vision experts at RxOptical.com have this to say on the subject:

“Black text on a white background is best because the color characteristics and light are best suited to the human eye. White text on a black background or in “dark mode” makes the eye work harder and open wider as it requires absorb more light. “

So it seems that science supports the light mode for readability, especially when it comes to long-form content. But keep your horses! An informal survey of people who use the Polar app to read college textbooks found that their users mostly prefer the app in dark mode. Almost 90% voted for the dark topic.

If you could only use one polar, light, or dark theme (assuming it’s not implemented yet) which one would you choose?

– Polar (@getpolarized) November 21, 2019

When Wired UK interviewed Anna Cox, a professor of human-computer interaction, she explained that the mode you choose isn’t the only thing that affects readability:

“In terms of legibility, Cox says ensuring a higher contrast between text and background is more important than the color scheme. If the contrast is the same between normal and dark mode, we may not expect a difference in legibility. “

Eye strain and blue light

Many dark mode followers proclaim their loyalty to the dark side mainly because they say it is easier on their eyes. Developers, programmers, and anyone who spends a lot of time staring at lines of code usually feels that way.

Conversely, the information from RxOptical found that dark mode made the eyes work harder. However, the same article further admitted that it can reduce eye strain in low light.

Blue light exposure throws another twist on this subject. The bright light from our screens has been linked to digital eye strain as well as symptoms such as dry eyes, blurred vision, headaches and insomnia. In fact, research published in the science journal Nature found that long-term exposure to bright screens is linked to myopia or myopia.

Autumn Sprabary at All About Vision takes the middle ground in terms of the impact light and dark screens have on our eyes:

“The dark mode successfully reduces glare and reduces blue light. Both help your eyes. Dark mode is not for everyone, however, and in some cases it can actually cause more vision problems than solutions. “

Whether you should read in light or dark mode may depend on the time of day. Chris Hoffman explains in How-to-Geek that he believes reading at night requires darker settings:

“Dark mode is great for low-light environments. When you lie in bed at night reading something on your phone, reading white text on a black background is much nicer than having lots of bright white light illuminate your face. A dark black screen also doesn’t bother anyone sleeping next to you. “

Extension of the battery life

Charging station for phones with low batteries

As dark mode has grown in popularity over the past few years, one of the benefits touted in marketing was the ability to extend battery life. It’s something that goes down well with almost everyone. We all want to keep our smartphones and tablets alive and away from the charger for as long as possible.

But how true is the claim that dark mode saves battery life? It turns out that this depends on how your device screen is lit.

Mashable reported that dark mode can extend the battery life of an iPhone by up to 30%. And in 2018, CNET asked Android users to turn on dark mode to save power. However, the truth is that you will only save energy if your phone has an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen.

Brooke Crothers, consumer technology writer, stated in a Forbes.com article:

“The obvious conclusion is that dark mode doesn’t affect battery life if you have a smartphone with an LCD (not uncommon) or a laptop or tablet with an LCD (almost universal).”

Crothers explained that devices with OLED screens turn off pixels in dark mode, which uses no power, while LCD screens consume the same amount of power compared to light mode regardless of dark mode. However, decreasing the brightness on an LCD will affect battery life.

Mobile Enerlytics has achieved a variety of potential energy savings with OLED screens. According to their research, it can range from 1.8% to 23.5% depending on the app you use.

The judgment? You can extend your battery life a bit in dark mode, but you probably won’t be saving enough power to save the planet.

Email developer in dark mode in light mode

Now let’s take up a subject closer to home. How do email developers feel about dark mode compared to light mode? On the one hand, they can opt for the darker option in their work and in daily life. However, when composing emails, dark mode has its challenges.

Search for “email in dark mode” on developer message boards like “stack overflow” and you will come across plenty of people looking for help solving all sorts of problems. Here are just a few of the many questions:

  • “Is there anything that can be done to prevent Dark Mode from changing our text from black to white?”
  • “Is there a ‘simple’ way to automatically switch all of the HTML to dark mode if possible?”
  • “I’m having a problem rendering my custom encoded HTML email template in dark mode. The email and all colors work fine, with the exception of this one header above. “

The most frustrating thing about dark mode email is that clients are inconsistent in the way they render your email. Patrick Krupar of Sidemail.io set out the details of this challenge after testing email in dark mode for himself. Even so, he loves email dark mode so much that he’s ready to take on these challenges:

“I’m a big fan of Dark Mode, and blindingly bright emails are my nemesis. When I found out about Dark Mode in iOS 13, I did the only obvious thing and ordered a brand new iPhone to test things out on the Coming of HTML Email, and I love it! But there is another thing to worry about, such as using HTML tables for layout is not enough. “

Email Acid’s own developer, Ed Ball, is also a fan of Dark Mode and has seen the challenges firsthand. His advice? Dark mode hacking may not be the best use of your time.

Ed Ball

“I really like dark mode! I’ve found email rendering problems and developers are trying to reverse it with code. However, if the reader has their device in dark mode, they want their emails to be in dark mode. So if you change the email you are actually deviating from what the reader wants to see. Designing emails for dark mode is the best way to go in my opinion. “

Get tips from Ed and two other seasoned email developers when you attend our upcoming Designing Dark Mode Emails webinar, which will be aired live Oct 22 at 11:30 a.m. EDT. Also, find out what happened when Ed was testing the limits of dark mode and accessibility. Does an email stay in light mode in dark mode?

Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is Email at Acids Content Marketing Manager. He has created lead-generating digital marketing plans for a wide variety of companies and knows how valuable content drives a powerful email strategy. Kasey lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Go Packers) with his wife and three runaway boys.

Author: Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is Email at Acids Content Marketing Manager. He has created lead-generating digital marketing plans for a wide variety of companies and knows how valuable content drives a powerful email strategy. Kasey lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Go Packers) with his wife and three runaway boys.

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