The Dark Side of Dark Mode: Is the Latest App Trend Sucking the Life Out of Our Screens?

Cure fans and the eco-friendly, Dark Mode is here!

No, the rise of Dark Mode doesn't have anything to do with an uptick in goth style; it's all about science.
No, the rise of Dark Mode doesn’t have anything to do with an uptick in goth style; it’s all about science. Daniel Bean/Observer

There’s a new trend in app and software design called Dark Mode. If you haven’t seen it hit your phone or computer screen yet, the basic twist is that it swaps in a black-dominant theme for the traditional white and bright colors that have been the backdrop for most app layouts since the beginning of app layouts.

dark mode v regular mode

The reason behind the rise in this trend, surprisingly, doesn’t have anything to do with some uptick in goth style; it’s science. Not only does Dark Mode conserve mobile phone and tablet energy by asking screen pixels to fire less brightly, but it also reduces eye strain for users.

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Google has pushed the battery conservation messaging of black-themed apps in presentations for developers that build on its Android operating software. And when Apple (AAPL) released its new Dark Mode for Mac OS late last year, it marketed the option as “easy on your eyes and helps you focus on your work.”

That all sounds good, but before this drab and dreary design takes over all the interfaces we stare at day-in and day-out, maybe we should stop for a second to think about what saying goodbye to bright and happy screens could mean.

Apple has gotten into the Dark Mode game.
Apple got into the Dark Mode game late last year. Courtesy of Apple

Dr. Sally Augustin is an environmental design psychologist, and she told Observer that brightness and colors can definitely provoke emotion, so muting out an app’s appearance can make it harder to connect with users.

“There is a lot of research linking color saturation, brightness and hue to particular cognitive responses,” Augustin explained. “Colors such as red and blue have emotional implications because of their saturation and brightness levels.”

This limits “graphics, typeface and text on a screen” as the main elements in Dark Mode-themed apps that can be used to communicate the emotion you want to push to the user, Augustin went on.

And beyond a lack of chroma variety in Dark Mode app environments, black serving as the focus in a screen design sounds like it could trigger some claustrophobic vibes. Augustin explained that the color, when we’re talking about paint on walls, can “make a space seem smaller, which is often undesirable.” The doctor did, however, point out that, with screens merely sharing space in our vision, you’d have to be pretty locked into your black-themed app or program to feel the same effect.

On another positive spin for Dark Mode, Augustin believes the color white that it rebukes does have a tendency to distract people from the task at hand and cause the mind to wander, which plays into Apple’s marketing for its Dark Mode for Mac OS.

Francisc Aknai, a senior UX designer at software development company Yopeso, isn’t concerned about the Dark Mode takeover. He told Observer that he doesn’t see black as an obstacle—instead, it’s a design boon.

“One might think that gray and black themed interfaces can only cover specific emotions or actions. The truth is that black is an achromatic color, meaning it has no hue value,” Aknai explained. “Having no hue is a positive thing in our case because you can pair it with almost every color, thus you can express all kinds of emotions and feelings by finding the correct mix.”

Even crypto apps are in on the trend.
Even crypto apps are in on the trend. Courtesy of Coindex

Aknai continued: “If the solution requires a darker theme based on their research and empathizing with their users, [a designer] should be able to work with the same ease, regardless of the color scheme.”

Of course, the bottom line remains that if you don’t prefer the look of dark aesthetics, Dark Mode could bum you out. Augustin agrees that certain people would rather stay away from “drab” design. It boils down to a personal preference.

The good news is that almost all of the Dark Mode options being rolled out by your favorite apps and operating systems are just that: options. And the best part of that is not necessarily that Dark Mode will be easy to avoid, but if you’re opting in because of the power-conservation and health-related benefits that Dark Mode promises, Augustin said it’s likely you’ll feel good when you’re interfacing with the aesthetic because it will remind you of said benefits.

Alignment with self-concept and messages conveyed by the black color scheme are key here,” she went on.

So, Cure fans and the eco-friendly, Dark Mode is here!

The Dark Side of Dark Mode: Is the Latest App Trend Sucking the Life Out of Our Screens?