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Light Mode vs Dark Mode: Which Is Better In UI/UX Design?

Brian Bojan Dordevic
About The Author

Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

Join me at the forefront of web design and digital marketing innovation. I am obsessed with web design, business philosophy and marketing performance.
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Choosing between light mode vs dark mode feels like a high-stakes decision, doesn’t it? Each has its fans and critics, making you wonder which side to lean on for your website’s design.

Both light mode and dark mode come with their unique set of pros and cons. Opting for one over the other without understanding their implications is a risky decision.

Working on over 500 website projects with my Los Angeles web design agency, I’ve seen how the choice between dark mode and light mode can significantly impact user engagement and conversion rates.

In this article, I’ll give you my take on the light mode vs dark mode debate – based on those firsthand insights. I’ll show you the advantages and potential pitfalls of each design approach, backed by real-world examples and statistics that reveal user preferences.

By the end, you’ll be able to decide between light vs dark mode for your next project, balancing aesthetics with functionality and user preference with performance. It will become easier for you to make confident design choices that lead to a better user experience.

Table of Contents:
Light mode vs dark mode

What Is Light Mode In Web Design?

Light mode refers to user interfaces with positive contrast polarity. In simpler terms, it’s all about dark text popping out against a light background. This doesn’t necessarily need to be black text on a white background  – although that’s the most recognized example.

As technology advanced, so did display capabilities, leading to the dominance of light backgrounds in digital interfaces. This shift was driven by the goal of mirroring the readability of black ink on white paper, a standard in the print world.

Today, light mode serves as the default setting in many mobile apps and website designs.

However, light mode isn’t as perfect as it might initially seem. So, let’s discuss the advantages and potential issues of light mode so you can make more informed design decisions for your web pages.

Advantages Of Light Mode In UI/UX Design

Light mode is not just an aesthetic preference. Here are some of the reasons why many web designers opt for a light mode by default:

  • Better performance for people with normal vision: For individuals with standard vision, interfaces designed in light mode can lead to a noticeable improvement in task performance. This advantage stems from the natural predisposition of the human eye towards easily discerning dark elements on a light background, mimicking the traditional reading experience of black text on white paper.
  • It tends to be better for visual acuity tasks: Tasks that require a keen eye for detail, such as proofreading text or analyzing intricate graphics, are facilitated by the high contrast environment that light mode offers. This aligns with functional user requirements for a website design.
  • It’s easier to read small fonts in light mode: Small font sizes can be challenging to read, but light mode improves their clarity. Light mode is particularly beneficial for text-heavy web pages or detailed information displayed in small fonts.
  • Reduces visual fatigue in bright environments: In well-lit areas or during daylight hours, light mode interfaces harmonize with the surrounding brightness, leading to less visual fatigue.

Potential Problems With Light Mode In Web Design

While light mode is known for its clarity and readability, it’s not without its drawbacks. Here’s a closer look at some potential issues you should be aware of.

  • Increased battery consumption: Lighter screens require more energy to maintain brightness levels, leading to quicker depletion of the device’s battery. This is why some users prefer dark themes.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns: The human pupil reacts to the brightness by contracting, reducing melatonin production – a crucial hormone for regulating sleep. Light exposure during late hours can disrupt users’ natural sleep cycles, and that’s why many opt for dark mode during the night.
  • Increased Glare: The high contrast between the light screen and the surrounding environment can lead to reflections that interfere with clear vision.
  • Reduces readability for users with specific visual impairments:  For individuals with certain visual impairments, like low vision, light modes may reduce readability, making it hard to engage with the content. Light backgrounds can wash out text for these users, decreasing contrast sensitivity and making it difficult for the human pupil to adjust.

What Is Dark Mode In Web Design?

dark mode web design example

As the opposite of a light mode, dark mode revolves around negative polarity (light text on a dark background).

Some popular color combinations for dark themes include:

  • Black text, white background
  • Blue background, white text
  • Rich grays for a background, neon greens or blues for text

Interestingly, the earliest computer interfaces embraced what we now call dark mode, featuring bright text on predominantly dark screens. However, as technology evolved, light mode became the standard.

Despite this shift, dark mode has surged back into popularity, especially with tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, and Google integrating it into their operating systems and products.  This resurgence is a response to user demand for more eye-friendly alternatives in low-light environments and a desire to reduce blue light exposure. Currently, dark mode is one of the main web design trends in 2024.

Dark themes have become an aesthetic preference for brands aiming to position themselves as innovative. It’s a popular choice in crypto web design, gaming websites, entertainment platforms, and more.

However, before implementing a dark mode for your website, it’s crucial to consider its pros and cons first.

Advantages Of Dark Mode In UI/UX Design

Dark themes have become an increasingly important aspect of modern UI design. Here’s how dark modes can enhance user experience:

  • Great for low-light environments: In dimly lit settings, dark mode reduces the overall light emitted by screens, making it easier on the eyes and helping prevent eye strain. This is particularly valuable for users who spend long hours in front of their screens or prefer to browse in the evening or at night.
  • Helps with glare: Dark themes significantly reduce glare, offering a more comfortable viewing experience in various lighting conditions. This can be especially appreciated by users with light sensitivity or those who work in brightly lit offices or outdoors.
  • Increases Battery Life: On devices with OLED or AMOLED screens, dark mode can lead to substantial battery savings. These screens illuminate individual pixels, meaning darker pixels use less power, thus extending the device’s battery life during use. When a user is running out of battery but wants to keep exploring your website, a dark mode can be a lifesaver.
  • It is an aesthetic preference for some audiences: Dark mode offers a sleek, modern look that many users find visually appealing. For example, dark mode glassmorphism is a technique I’ve been experimenting with at Alpha Efficiency, and it received positive feedback from a client’s audience.

Potential Problems With Dark Mode In Web Design

Here are several reasons why I don’t recommend solely relying on dark mode for most of your projects:

  • Often lacks text contrast light mode provides: This can make content harder to read, especially for users with certain visual impairments. Ensuring adequate text color contrast is crucial for accessibility and user comfort, making this an important consideration in the dark mode vs light mode debate.
  • Branding constraints: Not all brand identities are suited to dark mode. Some colors simply don’t translate well onto a dark background. This limitation can affect the visual impact of your website and may dilute brand recognition if the color scheme is a key component of your brand identity.
  • Compatibility inconsistency: The appearance of a dark mode design can vary significantly across different browsers and devices. This inconsistency can lead to a disjointed user experience, where elements may not appear as intended, potentially creating an accessibility issue. This was a much bigger problem several years ago, but it’s still worth noting.
  • Reading problems for text-heavy websites: For text-heavy, long-scroll websites, dark mode might not always be the best choice. Extended reading on a dark background can strain some users’ eyes, making it less ideal for platforms focusing on lengthy articles or detailed documentation. So, before choosing a dark theme as a default setting for your website, consider how much text your pages contain.

The dark mode is a popular trend that aligns with many modern design preferences. However, it’s essential to weigh these potential problems against your project’s specific needs, audience, and branding requirements.

Dark Mode vs Light Mode – Which Is Better For User Experience?

Is light mode or dark mode better for user experience

When designing a website, you must pay attention to the user experience it provides in the long run. Your website’s background colors will have a big impact on the first impressions your design makes.

Although I believe that you shouldn’t base your design choices solely on light mode vs dark mode statistics, considering how these might impact usability is important.

After all, what good is a beautifully designed website if users find it uncomfortable to navigate or experience eye strain within minutes of their visit?

As I’ve previously mentioned, dark and light mode both come with pros and cons. In terms of user experience, it’s a narrow battle.

Do Users Prefer Light Mode or Dark Mode?

As it usually goes, users have different preferences between light mode vs dark mode. That doesn’t make the decision any easier for you.

However, I’ve prepared some statistics that might help you better understand which design route might be best for your project:

  • A survey showed that 81.9% of 2,500 Android users prefer dark mode.
  • A study shows that nearly 83% of users shift to dark mode after 10 pm.

As I’ve previously mentioned, dark and light modes both come with pros and cons. In terms of user experience, it’s a narrow battle.

However, statistics suggest that implementing a dark mode version of your design might be a wise choice, even if you decide to go for light background colors as a default setting. This is particularly important if your analytics suggest a significant portion of your audience is active during the evening.

How To Decide Between Light Mode vs Dark Mode As A Default Setting For Your Website?

When deciding between light vs dark mode for your default website setting, I recommend considering the following factors:

  • Branding: Above all, your choice between light mode and dark mode should reflect and reinforce your brand’s identity and values. A brand emphasizing innovation and modernity might gravitate towards dark mode, while one focusing on clarity and openness may prefer light mode. This alignment is crucial for creating a cohesive and impactful brand experience across all customer touchpoints.
  • Consider color psychology: Colors play a pivotal role in how users perceive and interact with your website. Light backgrounds tend to evoke feelings of clarity and openness, while dark backgrounds can be a great choice for luxury website design.
  • Research your audience: Audience demographics such as age, profession, and tech-savviness can significantly influence their preference for light or dark mode. For instance, younger, more tech-oriented audiences might lean towards dark mode, especially for platforms they use during nighttime. Conducting market research for website design can provide valuable insights into your specific audience’s preferences.
  • Understand your goals: Your website’s primary function and content type play a crucial role in determining the most suitable mode. For example, if your site focuses on long-form reading or detailed work, light mode might be preferable for its readability and reduced eye strain over long periods. Conversely, dark mode might be more fitting for media-centric sites, enhancing visual content and reducing glare.
  • Optimize for Accessibility: Accessibility should never be an afterthought. Some users with specific visual impairments find high-contrast themes (whether light or dark) challenging. Offering the option to switch between modes can make your website more inclusive, catering to a broader range of visual needs. Also, make sure to use an ADA website compliance checklist during the design process.

Final Thoughts: Creating Both Light Mode and Dark Mode Is A Win-Win Scenario

I recommend light mode as a safer choice due to its wide acceptance and proven effectiveness in various contexts.

However, creating both versions of your website and allowing users to choose between them is the most optimal path. This dual offering respects individual preferences, adapts to varying environmental conditions, and addresses the diverse needs of a global audience.

It positions your website as an adaptable, inclusive platform, ready to meet users wherever they are, in whatever lighting conditions they prefer. This win-win scenario is a testament to the power of choice in the digital age, empowering users and enriching their interaction with your brand.

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