Who turned off the lights?
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but our screens have been looking darker lately. Dark mode (also called black mode, dark theme, night mode, or lights-out mode) is an increasingly popular stylistic theme for websites and apps, and it's the reason why you may have noticed black backgrounds popping up everywhere. As dark mode design continues to grow in popularity (especially following the implementation of optional dark mode for Apple iOS, Facebook, Google Chrome, and other highly trafficked sites, apps, and operating systems), we’ve also seen it become more prevalent in web design.
So, is dark mode an option you should consider for your next website design project or website redesign? Read on to learn about the purpose behind dark mode, and whether you should think about going dark for your next design.
What is Dark Mode?: A Brief History Lesson
Dark mode is a website treatment that involves replacing the classic white background, black text look of a website with a dark background and a lighter colored text. Though its current popularity has it feeling like a refreshing dip in a pool on a hot summer day after years and years of staring at bright white screens, the use of black screens in design is nothing new.
Some of you Gen Y and Elder Millennials surely recall using a computer in the ‘80s with the classic monochrome black screen look. Most of the earliest home computers featured green or white text on plain black backgrounds.
Shortly after, though, the opposite color set became what we think of now as the norm. The classic dark-on-light color scheme became commonplace as an attempt to emulate ink on paper.
Why the shift back to dark mode now, then? As one Silicon Valley designer put it: “We’re beyond paper.”
Habits and expectations have changed with the digital tides, and our understanding of what viewing information looks like — once established by books, notebooks, and newspapers — looks different.
This has, in many ways, opened up a world of possibilities for the designers who build the websites we now use to obtain most of our information intake. Designers are going back to the drawing board, and rather than considering how to make screens emulate physical paper, they’re asking a different question: What could compelling digital displays be?
Dark mode is a step in this direction, and also follows other major health-related questions as we all adjust to a life more defined by screens than ever before. For these reasons and more, dark mode isn’t just becoming more popular, but for some people, it’s becoming the expectation.
So, is dark mode right for your website project?
Here at Speak, we love dark mode. It has tons of advantages: making images stand out, eliciting a stronger emotional response from visitors, and potentially easing eye strain. But, it’s not right for every website. Let’s unpack some of the pros and cons of dark mode so you can take all the information straight from the experts into consideration.
A darker background will make images and video pop.
If your website is image-heavy, or if your organization has visuals you want to feature, opting for a dark or black background will do the trick to make them stand out. Museum and visitor attraction websites, photographer sites, or sites that are selling a visual product, like food and drink, for instance, all would benefit from a dark background to make image and video come to life and compel more than ever. White or light backgrounds have the tendency to wash images out—which may be a better option for you if you’re wanting light imagery to blend in with the background of your site rather than pop off the screen. But, because black has a receding quality, pictures with brighter colors stand out and instantly capture the attention of visitors.
Check out a few examples of websites we’ve designed in dark mode for that exact reason:
Dark mode brings about more powerful emotions.
Whoever said black is a neutral color couldn’t have been more wrong. The depth and dominance of black actually has a strong psychological effect. People subconsciously associate black with words like elegant, powerful, sleek, and stylish. All of these are descriptors we aim for when designing websites, so by going dark, you can immediately give yourself a leg up in how visitors perceive your organization compared to competitors’ sites.
Added user perks: minimal battery usage, less eye strain.
The major user benefits of dark mode are a big contributor for why many website owners are considering dark mode when they redesign their site. As web and mobile users have explored and become accustomed to having the option of dark mode on some of the websites, apps, and systems they use most like Google, Apple, and Meta, the appreciation of dark mode is higher than ever from a user standpoint, not just because of the aesthetic qualities it offers, but because of health and energy benefits too.
What are the advantages of dark mode?
Any newer phone using AMOLED or LED display benefits from battery consumption on darker themes, since they turn off those pixels, which can save users some juice.
It’s favorable for low-light settings, and less shocking to the eyes when used after long periods in darkness (waking up in the morning, in movie theaters and other typically-dark environments, in bed without disturbing the person next to you.)
It emits less blue light from your phone, which may be a contributing factor to difficulty sleeping, insomnia, stress, anxiety, and other concerns.
It may help reduce eye strain and be less of a cause of dry eyes, and could even be more ideal for people with light sensitivity or visual impairment.
This is great for you as a website owner, too! Take it from one of our designers, Mark Palomino:
“With so much media being served to users, Dark Mode gives the user a more relaxed screen, with less strain on the eyes. Sites have been using more and more dark-themed designs in order to encourage users to comfortably engage with their content for longer periods of time.”
Like we said above, though, dark mode isn’t the right choice for every web design project. As an agency who works with organizations from attractions to small businesses and ecommerce to healthcare and nonprofits, we’ll discuss your specific web design needs and make an assessment about whether dark mode or light mode would better benefit you and your goals.
A few disadvantages of dark mode to keep in mind:
Darker website designs could hinder readability.
Studies have found that light text on dark backgrounds is more difficult to read and digest than the standard dark text on white backgrounds. For some users, like those with astigmatism, dark backgrounds can cause a “halation effect”. That is, dark displays can cause the iris to receive more light, which can cause a blurred effect around lighter letters and make focusing on words more difficult.
What this means for you:
If you know your website needs to rely on lots of text and copy to get your message across, it may be best to stick with a light design to ensure that all users are able to easily read what you have to say.
Inversely, though, dark mode may benefit some readers’ ability to read copy-heavy sites. For example, some research has shown that users with cataracts actually find websites with dark backgrounds easier to read than light or white backgrounds. Similarly, another study suggested that there may be functional benefits for users when it comes to reading charts and graphics in dark mode.
As with everything else you consider in your marketing strategy, review your website persona research and data and consider the demographics of people interacting with your site to confirm whether it would be wise to pursue a dark mode website redesign.
Remember – there’s always a gray area.
Not everything has to be black and white. Dark mode web design doesn’t simply mean a pure black background (Hex code #000000) and a stark white font. This isn’t the eighties, and we’re beyond paper, remember?
A skilled design agency will consider all of your goals, branding, and what you want your website to say to its visitors to come up with a site and coloring that feels nuanced, compelling, and unique.
For some, that may mean opting for a warmer black or cool slate gray background. Even a dusky blue, rich evergreen, or smoky purple can add all the excitement and intrigue that dark mode offers without painting the town — er, site — stark black. When we design websites in dark mode for our clients, we find the perfect color scheme to enhance their brand identity and current color palette.
If you’re still unsure whether dark mode or light mode is best… maybe a combination of both should be your go-to! When you opt for dark mode, not every single element on a page has to have a dark background. Check out the site we designed for Musicians Hall of Fame that switches between dark and light elements to get the best of both worlds:
So, are you ready to go to the dark side?
Clearly, the team at Speak is in support. Designer and Developer Mark Palomino says of dark mode:
“Dark mode is my favorite. From a design perspective, dark mode has seen a rise in popularity. Backpacking off of ‘edgy’ and ‘mysterious’ motifs, darker designs provide a type of intrigue. It can be a challenge for many designers to work with, since the color palettes that pair with this mode must be vibrant, but safe to say, dark mode is NOT going anywhere anytime soon!”
Speak can help.
It’s the perfect time to get creative and go dark for your next website project, and Speak is here to help. We’ll discuss your website needs and goals and make sure that your new website wows. Whether it’s dark or light, Speak Creative will build the perfect new site for your organization.