Home » What are the negative and positive aspects of dark color scheme?

What are the negative and positive aspects of dark color scheme?

Solutons:


Darker color scheme are often used effectively in software that focuses heavily on visual content. For example Adobe Lightroom, Adobe After Effects, Microsoft Expression Blend, and Kaxaml are interfaces that have a dark color theme. This allows the interface to fade into the background and let the content come alive

Why is it not widely used? I guess it depends on your crowd. For these applications, it tends to work out great but many people don’t like dark interfaces. At my company I created an interface for a very complicated piece of software using a dark UI. It helped to simplify everything and bring attention to the necessary elements at specific times. The problem was, a lot of people complained. “It’s too dark,” “it doesn’t look good on my laptop when I am using in the bright sun” etc. Some people just hate dark interfaces.

Bottom line: if your application is very content driven, esp with visual content, consider a dark interface but be prepared for some opposition.

Alternative solution: provide 2 themes, one light and one dark. This is done in Microsoft’s Expression Blend (although the light theme looks quite awful, IMO)

Also, it is important to note that it is often a bit more difficult to get a dark interface that works well. A little more care must be given to legibility of text on the dark background (i.e. making it bright enough to be legible but not so bright that it is distracting to read).

Dark on light vs light on dark themes can have multiple effects, such as:

  • Bringing attention to an application vs bringing attention to the application’s contents

    • People focus on brighter areas — darker background brings attention to the content, while lighter background bring attention to the window itself vs the desktop.
      Imagine if the box around non-16:9 movies was white instead of black, it would distract your attention from the movie.
  • Emphasizing details in text vs readability in text

    • With bright on dark text, the text seems to expand (since the human perception makes brighter objects glow). This leads to the text appearing bolder. If the text is already bold, this may make the text hard to read (depending on font), as the spacing between the lines will reduce. If the text is not bold (or if the font is clean and narrow to start with), it will make the text stand out.

    • Difference between different shades of grey are more noticeable on dark backgrounds than on light backgrounds. (See formula here or here.)

  • Making text more readable in bright environments vs dark environments

    • In dark environments, light background can strain the eyes.

    • In very bright environments, light on dark will help you see the text but make it hard to differ between shades (white text vs grey text). Dark on light will help you see the difference between shades, but if the environment is too bright, you will only see the darker text (the grey text will seem white).

  • Making screens easier to look at for long period of times or in different environments.

    • TV screens are often in less illuminated rooms than computer screens in offices, resulting in dark themes being easier to rest your eyes on than light themes. (The smaller difference in intensity between the walls and the screen makes the irises work less.)
  • Making text more readable for people with various eye-sight problems that affect contrast perception

    • Some people can only read high contrast text, 50% grey on black is higher contrast than 50% grey on white.

    • Some people can’t see well in environments that are too dark and some can’t see well in environments that are too bright — each will require a different (opposing) theme (I’ll let you guess which requires which).

  • Matching people’s point of view

    • People that are used to light backgrounds and don’t like changes won’t like bright on dark.

    • Creative people may prefer dark backgrounds, as it both introduces a challenge to common conventions and emphasizes detail and colors.

It is important to note that a lot of research on which is better was conducted incorrectly (length of test per theme, controlling for different environment illumination levels) and is now out of date (based on CRT screens and not LCD screens).

Possible reasons why dark themes are less common:

  • I think that modern window-based OSes defaulted at first to black on white to

    • differentiate them from the old console-based OSes

    • make them look more like paper-based products (e.g. books).

  • Light themes are the current standard; people are used to them

  • Light themes require less work from developers (since the OS/browser default theme is light, developers don’t need to override all the colors)

why this color scheme is not widely used?

Good question without an obvious answer. You could claim all sorts of trends are involved, but I think it would be a brave move to accept any one reason for why we tend to go with dark on light. I think your best bet is to develop the scheme that best suits your site’s purpose and its users.

For a quick overview of the conflicting studies/opinions:

This study found dark on light to be the best – sort of. They feel that an aesthetic preference may be in play influencing the outcomes. They also found a light on dark scheme to perform almost as well – per Nielsen’s quote (see page 19).

This study found that dark text on light backgrounds was more readable – most designers will go for a design that is better for their users.

And for just a general look at the issue, this article describes some of the issues in choosing dark on light versus light on dark.

Note that in the case of this last article, they have some examples that I don’t believe follow generally accepted guidelines for light-on-dark with regards to font settings (spacing, etc). IMO the examples are a little off.

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