As different platforms have implemented built-in “dark mode” functionality over recent years, it’s become increasingly popular. I’m all for people having options so their individual computing set-ups can be as comfortable as possible for them, but for me personally, I can’t stand most layouts that put bright text on dark backgrounds, so I don’t use dark mode. Sometimes I have issues when a site only has a “dark mode” layout with no “light mode” option available, to the point I end up closing the site and not reading whatever I came there to read.

The problem for me is that most implementations turn the contrast up too high. When they do, I can only read dark-mode text for a couple of lines before they start “burning in” to my vision, which I assume is due to photo-bleaching(external link). I get these greenish lines covering my field of view, and as they start “swimming” across my vision, the overlapping lines (of the continuing text and the “burnt-in” lines) start to disorient me and I can’t keep my place in what I’m looking at (plus, it’s kind of nauseating). So then I have to look away from the screen until the greenish lines fade. This makes it unsustainable for me to read an extended length of dark-mode text – a status message or zeroing in on a specific point in reference material I can manage, but not entire articles or stories.

There are dark mode colour schemes that don’t have this effect on me. For example, the elementary OS terminal(external link) has a grey-on-dark colour scheme that I’ve never found uncomfortable. Solarized Dark(external link) is also fine. Nord Dark(external link) features text that’s a bit brighter, but still OK. (On that page, anyway – I prefer implementations that use nord4 as the text colour over nord6, at least if it has to be dark mode, haha.) The unifying feature of all these colour schemes is that they don’t overdo the contrast between the background colour and the text. They certainly don’t just put #fff text on an #000 background and call it a day. Personally I still prefer a good light colour scheme to these dark ones, but at least a quality dark-mode palette like this means I can read blog posts or whatever without discomfort.

For all my reservations about dark mode, I presume there are people who feel the same way about #000 text on an #fff background (which I am, for better or for worse, practically using on this site1). If I’m using a screen with the brightness turned up high, I do find this unpleasantly glarey – which is why I turn brightness right down on every screen I use, and engage redshift at night (that and turning brightness down helps extend my devices’ battery life, too). Still, since I discovered the Nord colour scheme a few months ago it’s been percolating in the back of my mind that it could be a good idea to rewrite my blog theme, in order to support visitors’ dark mode preferences if they have them set, as well as enable a lower-contrast, glare-free experience for everybody. There are some other changes I wouldn’t mind making at the same time though, making the theme creation I envisage a bit of a hefty project.

Nonetheless, I have been quietly bookmarking resources to return to when I finally do feel up to taking this challenge on, for example:

Thinking about this issue from the perspective of a reader, I can’t help but wonder whether leaving it to the web designer to pick colour schemes, fonts and so on is really the best way. When I compare browsing the web to my experience reading Gemini capsules in the Lagrange browser(external link), for example, I think reading on Gemini usually feels better. Lagrange offers a few different themes, ranging from white to black, a saturation adjuster for the colourful ones, lets you pick from about half a dozen different fonts, and adjust your column width. On the web, I find that ebook reading applications tend to offer similar customisation options (logically, I suppose), but not that many other things.

On the other hand, Gemini’s decision works because it’s primarily a protocol for reading (or if you flip the perspective, for publishing pieces of writing); if you want to share visual content, or content with a certain visual presentation, then the web is the place to be. What’s more, I do like seeing how different people design the layouts of their personal homepages. I like seeing the variety, and the personal flourishes. Not everyone is writing their own blog theme from the ground-up and that’s totally fine, but there is still some individuality that comes through all these different layouts that I encounter. And that’s something that I do sometimes miss on Gemini.

So, eventually, I do intend to make a new personalised theme with support for dark mode, and a default light mode that uses Nord colours instead of white-on-black. It’s just that I have a lot of other things that I also intend to do, so I might not get around to it all that soon! But one day. I’m sure.

  1. After this post’s initial publication, I remembered that I’d actually changed this column’s background colour to #fafafa at some point, hoping to reduce glare at least a little bit. Still, it’s very close to pure black-on-white. ↩︎