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“Dark mode” or “dark themes” began as a design trend ca. 2017. Because people were spending more time on their devices, the screen glare bothered people’s eyes; it was believed dark mode, or a dark background, lessened this glare.

To date, research still hasn’t proven that dark mode lessens glare or people’s reading comfort.

Research, however, has proven that readers comprehend information significantly better when they’re not reading in dark mode – meaning, they read black text on a white background.

In his 1984 book, Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes, Colin Wheildon ran tests using body text printed in black and several colors on white paper and tinted paper, as well as white copy on black paper and various other colors of paper.

Reader comprehension of black text on white was 70%. Reader comprehension of white text on black backgrounds was 10%.

Comprehension level demonstrated by readers of text printed in different colors. (c) Colin Wheildon

“Ah, but that is print,” you’re thinking. “It’s different for the web.”

Ah, nope.

In a 2003 study by Richard H. Hall and Patrick Hanna, “The Effect of Web Page Text-background Color Combinations on Retention and Perceived Readability, Aesthetics and Behavioral Intention,” subjects responded they could engage better with dark text on light backgrounds (emphasis ours).

One reason is that dark text on a white background allows the text to appear with crisp edges – making it easier to read.

If you have any doubts, simply look at any mainstream publication online. You’ll find most, if not all, use dark text on light backgrounds.

If you want visitors to your website to easily read and understand your message and offerings, avoid dark themes. If your website is already in a dark theme, ask your designer to change it.

Contributing Author: Dianna Huff


Rachel Cunliffe is the Designer and Creative Director for Huff Industrial Marketing. She draws on over 16 years experience of designing websites for companies and individuals around the world.

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