Dark Mode?

With macOS Mojave Apple introduced Dark Mode. Some applictions support it. I was mildly sceptical, thinking it was just some kind of fashion statement.

But there is an argument that goes like: “if I am going to stare into a lamp all day, I want as much of it to be as dark as possible”. It makes some sense. You would not want to stare into a lamp in the first place, why then let your display default to white everywhere?

There is also an explanation to why we ended up here: designers are educated for printed designs, which is usually on white paper, thus they prefer white background for computers as well, for aesthetic reasons. Everyone is not a designer, but we all mimic good design.

And you probably know that back the old days computer displays were black with green text. So it is plausible that people who want to make computers more modern and appealing prefer white displays, while people who are more nerdy or old fashioned like darkness.

What I have written so far may seem logical. But it does not matter. What matters is (from the perspective of a programmer):

  1. What is truly more ergonomical, to you?
  2. Is it enough to stick with either light or dark mode? Or should you switch depending on your surrounding environment?
  3. Can you get a consistent good dark mode experience, otherwise it is mostly annoying and better avoided entirely?
  4. How to design your product so it appeals to your customers?

Switching your OS to a dark mode is easy. If you are using XCode, Photoshop or some other product that supports dark mode, that is also easy. Terminal applications (frequently used by programmers) are highly customizable and has often never left dark mode in the first place.

How about the browser? Well, not the browser itself, but the web pages and web applications it delivers to you. Well, for Firefox and Chrome there is a plugin called “Dark Reader”. It works reasonably well for me. Read the FAQ/manual when you install it!

A problem is that when my eyes are used to bright content, a dark page with white text is no problem. But when I am used to a dark display and suddenly the entire display turns white for some reason, it is unpleasant.

As a developer I can of course wonder: how do we want web pages to be built so they work nicely both in light and dark mode?

  1. Each web page has a dark mode (will never happen)?
  2. Web pages should follow good light mode practices, so they look good when using a dark mode extension?
  3. Should any web pages be coded dark?

And as a developer, if my OS/Desktop, development tools, terminal and web browser is set to dark mode… what about the web application I am currently developing? I can’t possibly write CSS and whenever I refresh the result is passed through a black-box-dark-mode filter, that would be a very awkward development experience. So whenever I switch to the (web) application I am developing, the display will turn annoyingly white.

On Contrast

I had the idea that high contrast is easier on the eye. But I realise it is not. Absolutely white text on absolutely black background is quite hard on my eyes. However, ligth grey text on dark grey background is quite comfortable. Apple Terminal comes with a few different (color) profiles. Many of them are surprisingly colorful. I imagine I don’t want the cognitive input that colors give me, it distracts my mind, but perhaps I am wrong about it.

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