Pros and cons of dark interfaces: To be or not to be?

Dark interfaces look impressive, stylish, and elegant. However, designers should choose the “dark side” carefully, as it is not always justified. In which cases a dark interface is appropriate, and in which cases it is not, we will try to figure it out today.

Features of the design of a dark theme

Creating the appearance of a product is one of the main responsibilities of a designer. The design solution takes into account primarily the concept of the product, the specific situation of its application, and the audience. Initially, it is assumed that the color scheme is developed for long-term use, so you need to choose it carefully. It all starts with the selection of the background – a kind of “canvas”, on which the design elements will then be placed. Usually, a white background is chosen by default.

There are good reasons for choosing a light background. Contrast, text, readability, and the ability to work with a wide range of dim shades are some of them. According to scientific research, optimal legibility is given by black text on a white background. Branding can also influence the decision, as a company’s logos and colors don’t always blend harmoniously with a dark color palette.

The results of most studies show that dark text on a light background is easier to read than light text on a dark background. Also, the load on the eyes becomes much less in this case.

There is a certain stereotype: people are used to seeing various inscriptions and even images in dark ink on a white background. Think of the newspapers and magazines that have been around for more than 350 years. If you look even further – 35,000 years ago, in the Paleolithic era (the days of cave man), you can see rock paintings of lions and mammoths, applied mainly to a light background with coal or burnt bones.

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Prehistoric drawings in Chauvet Cave, France, which are 30,000 years old

Modern designers choose a dark color scheme for a number of reasons if the theme of the project obliges. Often it’s just an aesthetic choice to impress or trigger a wow effect. In some cases, the designer wants to combine the design with branding in this way into one whole or highlight the visual content.

For Apple TV, Apple’s website switches to a dark interface to enhance the effect and also because its use is usually associated with evening entertainment

However, if the designer decides to move to the “dark side”, he may face some difficulties. Various usability problems begin, mainly related to scanning capability, readability and contrast. It is important to maintain the optimal contrast between the text and the background. It is necessary to pay attention to the context (terms of use) and the environment, as well as the device on which the interface will be viewed.

Breitling chose a black background to focus on the design of its products

Dark interface and eye strain

Some dark interfaces are designed to minimize computer vision syndrome. This is a real problem that millions of people face every day, because with the growth of digital technologies, we look at screens most of the day. Computer syndrome can be triggered by anything from excessive computer use to regular exposure to bright light. The main symptoms are: headache, neck pain, loss of visual acuity and burning in the eyes.

Can this be avoided? Developers have been thinking about this for a long time. For example, SaaS products for business and media editing applications are typically used for hours on end. Many of them have been designed in a dark interface to reduce eye strain. At the same time, they maintain visual clarity at an optimal level. However, this approach requires a thorough preliminary assessment of the design.

Bloomberg Anywhere Apps for iOS (Jeremy Furst)

Toptal developer Amin Shah Gilani notes, “I use a dark theme for my code editor. I prefer this interface because a dark background is more comfortable for the eyes. I especially like to use it in dim lighting or working at night.”

Toptal Developer Amin Shah Gilani, Atom Code Editor

A dark theme is also often used for game app interfaces. The game context and the environment in which the players find themselves are better combined with the black color palette. The dark background design emphasizes vivid visual effects, brings a sense of mystery, enhances contrast and maintains visual hierarchy.

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HALO Wars – Real-time strategy

When you need dark interfaces

Most entertainment services (Smart TVs, game consoles, TV, and movie apps) tend to have a dark design. The reasons are clear: they are mainly used in the evening and are located at a distance of 1.5-3 meters from the eyes in poorly lit rooms, that is, the screen corresponds to the environment. In addition, bright content stands out sharply on dark interfaces and attracts attention.

Imagine the situation: it gets dark, you relax and want to watch TV. But that wasn’t the case. Like thousands of tiny light bulbs, digital displays emit light through bright pixels. If the theme is light, the screen will turn into a spotlight, which is extremely undesirable in the dark. Therefore, the interface design must be adjusted to the context: device, content, activity, and environment.

Apple iTunes app

We hope you remember that it is always necessary to consider the context in which the interface will be used so that the dark theme is appropriate. As we have already said, the choice depends on the content and the situationwhatwhenwhere and on what device. What can be achieved with the help of a dark theme:

  • Get a vivid visual effect.
  • Convey a sense of style and elegance, luxury and prestige.
  • Create intrigue and mystery.
  • Help the user focus and keep their attention.
  • Emphasize visual hierarchy and information architecture.
The concept of remote control and diagnostics of the car from Ramotion

It makes sense to use dark interfaces only with small blocks that contain a minimum of text and the information is presented clearly, and the main emphasis is on visual effects – text highlighting. The color of the text should contrast with the dark background – preference for pure white or other bright (not dark gray) shades.

When dark interfaces are not needed

We noted above that dark theme interfaces are not well suited for large amounts of text and data, or for use with different types of content (text, images, videos, data tables, drop-down lists, fields, etc.). According to the general opinion of designers, dark interfaces are a real problem for development, unless you work with simple content or rare inclusions of text.

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Chasing optimal contrast can reduce readability, which directly affects the overall user experience of the interface. As a rule, all colors work on a white background, but not all shades are combined with the dark mode.

In this example, there is not enough contrast for some UX-affecting interface elements (GUOHAO. W)

So to be or not to be a dark topic? That’s the question!

You need to make a decision to use a dark interface deliberately. If you want to blindly follow fashion or copy someone’s style, it is better to once again weigh the pros and cons. Because the dark theme has both certain advantages and many pitfalls that cannot be ignored.

When you can use dark interfaces:

  • This is justified by the color scheme of the brand.
  • The design is modest and minimalistic with several types of content.
  • Suitable for context and use, such as nightly entertainment applications.
  • It is necessary to reduce eye strain, for example, analytics pages that are used for a long time.
  • To create a bright, spectacular image.
  • To evoke emotions, add an aura of intrigue and mystery.
  • Create a sense of luxury and prestige.
  • Maintain a visual hierarchy.

When to stay away from dark interfaces:

  • A lot of text (it is difficult to read on a dark background).
  • There’s a lot of mixed content on the screen.
  • For B2B applications with a large number of forms, components and widgets.
  • The design requires a wide range of colors.
Even though it’s a game, many mixed content types don’t work well with a dark color palette.

Making the right decision

The transition to the “dark side” should be approached with caution. Before making such a serious decision, it is recommended to conduct deep, thorough research and analysis in order not to regret your choice in the future. If you have taken this path, it will be difficult to turn back. Designers should carefully consider all the factors before starting and weigh the pros and cons.

Do you like dark interfaces? Share your opinion.


Written by Shubham

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