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Dark Mode in Web Apps: A11Y Pros and Cons

Dark mode, or dark theme or night mode, is a display setting for digital user interfaces. It means that, instead of the default dark text on a light background, the user sees light-colored text against a dark or black background.

"The idea behind Dark Mode is that it reduces the light emitted by device screens while maintaining the minimum colour contrast ratios required for readability." ~ Why is Dark Mode so captivating? - Josep Ferrer

Two cell phones, side-by-side. One in light mode the other in dark mode to show how the colors for elements have to change in order to provide proper contrast for viewing. Light mode has black text, dark mode has white text.

It's not just a style choice; dark mode has implications for digital accessibility. 

In this blog post, I'll discuss some pros and cons users typically encounter when using dark mode.

The Pros of Dark Mode

Reduced Eye Strain

Dark mode reduces eye fatigue and dry eye. It benefits individuals with light sensitivity (photophobia) or low vision, making the inverted text easier to read for extended periods. Also, dark mode can help reduce screen flickering.

Less Blue Light

Less blue light will be emitted from your phone, which may help you sleep better. "Screen time, especially at night, is linked to poor sleep. The blue light from electronic devices messes with your circadian rhythm or sleep cycle. It signals your brain to wake up when it should be winding down." ~ Seeing Blue: How Blue Light Can Affect Your Health

Enhanced Readability

Crisp white text against a dark background often has a strong contrast polarity, the contrast between the text and the background. The better the contrast polarity, the better the readability, making content more accessible.

Help Maintain Focus

For some people with ADHD, dark mode helps minimize distractions produced by bright screens while reducing visual noise, thus helping to keep focus on the primary content.

The Cons of Dark Mode

Contrast Challenges

While dark mode generally enhances contrast, it can also create visibility issues for specific accessibility tools. For example, dark mode can prevent focus indicators from being visible for a user who navigates by keyboard only. If the contrast is too high, it can create what is known as a 'halation effect' where the text appears to be blurry and leads to readability issues.

Limited Compatibility

Dark mode is not confined to a single domain; it's available across various domains, including your favorite mobile devices, social media apps, e-readers, browsers, and many gaming platforms. Compatibility with dark mode differs among different devices, operating systems, and platforms, with some even featuring their own dark mode settings. As a result, what might function correctly on one device or assistive technology may encounter problems on another. 

Lack of Standardization

The rapid adoption of dark mode has created a growing need for standardization in the design and development industry. Some companies have their own guidelines, but currently, there are no industry-wide accepted best practices. The lack of standardization means that dark mode can appear and behave one way in one environment and completely different in another. See "Limited Compatibility" above.

For some people, dark mode themes simply offer a more enjoyable experience. For others, it's the aesthetics that attracts them. But for some, dark mode has provided a welcomed alternative for viewing, perceiving, and interacting with web and mobile app content. 

And yet, some continue to struggle to find apps that offer a more accessible experience for their specific needs. 

When it comes to dark mode and apps, it's clear that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The decision to utilize dark mode should be guided by your specific needs and the ability of your app to accommodate those needs.


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner