Dark Mode Best Practices: Do's and Don'ts of Dark UIs

Ellen Gregory


Dark UI has taken the internet by storm in recent years, and it’s not a surprise considering how striking, elegant, and impressive they can be. As a designer, you might be tempted to jump on the trend. If so, it’s essential to know how to design dark mode, and the dos and don’ts before jumping in headlong. At the end of the day, creating the best look and feel of a product is imperative to your design’s success. 

Depending on the product, website, or its intended audience, dark mode UI might be exactly what makes your design stand out. On the other hand, the very factors that make a dark theme so appealing in certain instances can have the completely opposite effect in another instance. Is dark mode UI the right choice for your website or mobile application? Check out the dos and don’ts, and dark mode best practices


Source: Spotify

How to design dark mode

As mentioned above, dark mode has risen in popularity due to its striking visual impact. However, it only works when a designer understands how to design dark mode and how to effectively design dark mode without putting off the user.

When dark mode is effectively implemented, it offers a variety of benefits and features, including:

  • Increase focus and concentration
  • Enhance text readability and legibility 
  • Improve contrast
  • Relieve eye fatigue and strain
  • Limits blue light
how to design dark mode
Dark mode has risen in popularity due to its striking visual impact.


Source: Daniel Korpai

Dark mode best practices: Dos

Take a look at popular dark mode UI website designs, the dos and don’ts, and how to use dark mode effectively into your design.

Negative space

Dark mode designs tend to feel “heavy”, and require a lot of "white” space, or rather “dark” space”, specifically deals with what you don’t add. Negative space is exactly as it sounds - the empty space around the elements in your composition. 

White space may appear to be unimportant or a passive part of a design, but it makes all the difference, especially when you’re deciphering how to design dark mode. White space actively helps define the hierarchy and organization of your design. Space can make a huge impact and be a powerful tool that helps your viewer to navigate through your design. It can also be a place to rest the eyes. Finding the right ratio between positive and negative space allows you to create clean and effective designs. 

Our brains naturally equate luxury and importance to an element with ample negative space around it. It signals to our eyes that objects in one region are purposefully grouped separately from objects elsewhere. 

The way you balance your negative space can make or break your dark mode design. Consider how each element or letter relates to each other, and give them the precise breathing room required. Use it wisely and keep in mind that too much space will cause your design to look unfinished, while too little space will cause your design to seem too crowded. Two Chimps Coffee, for instance, effectively uses negative space to give prominence to key elements, including their name, and call-to-action button. 

dark mode best practices dos
Dark UI effectively uses negative space to give prominence to key elements.


Source: Two Chimps Coffee by herdl

Emphasize visual content

When navigating dark mode best practices, consider how it emphasizes visual content. Dark mode is ideal for eye-catching visual applications and websites. The deep, heavy backgrounds perfectly make a design “pop” with its high-contrast backdrop. This helps draw attention to images, graphics, videos, and visuals of any shape and color. The lighter visual content pops out against the dark background, therefore creating a clear and strong visual hierarchy. When done well, your eye should naturally flow through a hierarchy of important elements seamlessly. Color is a highly effective way to create contrast. When your background is significantly different from the color of your elements, they work harmoniously together.

This is particularly true for large, high-contrast images and product shots. Take a look at the album covers on Spotify, or the show covers on Netflix, for instance. If your application or website showcases more images and visuals than copy, consider a dark color palette.

Dark UI showcases images 
Dark UI is great for applications that showcase more images and visuals than copy.


Source: Netflix

Enhance emotional branding

As we’ve already mentioned, dark mode requires a lot of negative space to avoid looking cluttered. This is one of the reasons that dark mode UI websites and applications tend to evoke stronger emotions in the users. Another reason dark mode applications enhance an emotional connection with users is the psychology of color. Each color evokes different reactions and emotions within users, and impacts what they see, how they feel, and it directly influences their decision. Studies have found black is best associated with authority, power, stability, and strength. It is often used to symbolize intelligence, sophistication, seriousness, control, power, mystery, drama, independence, and elegance. Needless to say, it’s a powerful color and when paired with a few large, high-contrast images, the final results are stunning.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, this mood-setting strategy works beautifully and appears frequently on both product pages and entertainment applications. Although it is extremely effective, it’s important to choose a color scheme that will evoke the emotions you want your brand to be associated with.

Improve usability

Sometimes, dark mode can be the key to designing a user-friendly app. This is commonly found in apps that are designed for heavy nighttime use. Typically, these apps will employ a dark color scheme to reduce eye fatigue. This is exactly why several entertainment apps, such as Netflix and Prime Video, use dark mode. However, other applications offer a dark mode, too. Some  offer the option to toggle between light and dark in the settings, while others, such as Google Maps, automatically darkens at night.

Prime Video dark mode
Entertainment apps, such as Prime Video, use dark mode to reduce eye fatigue.


Source: Amazon Prime Video

With that being said, the time of day isn’t a deciding usability factor. You’re likely familiar with the effects blue light can have on your eyesight, sleep, and overall health, and the notion that if you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, it is important that you give your eyes a break. This is just one of the benefits of using dark mode. This feature uses a light-on-dark color scheme with a black background and light-colored texts, icons, and other GUI elements.

Dark Mode offers a variety of benefits and features, including:

  • Increase focus and concentration
  • Enhance text readability and legibility 
  • Improve contrast
  • Relieve eye fatigue and strain
  • Limits blue light

If your application is intended to be used consistently for multiple hours, dark mode will minimize eye strain. You may have noticed that dark themes are particularly popular in code editors and financial apps for exactly this reason. 

Dark mode best practices: Don’ts

Text-heavy application

One of the biggest drawbacks of dark UIs is if your application requires a lot of text. Although dark text on a white background looks crisp, clean, and refined in small doses, anything that is text-heavy is downright terrible for displaying text. When you have an abundance of light text on a dark background, it becomes incredibly hard to read. You might know from personal experience that reading light text on a dark background takes longer to read. Not only that, but you will understand the material less accurately. This is why almost all blogs and news websites have light backgrounds instead of a dark one. The bottom line is, avoid dark mode and dark UI themes if your application contains lots of written content.

Displaying a variety of content types

Similarly to text-heavy applications, anything that requires a variety of content types, including text, images, video, data tables, dropdowns, fields, and so forth, do not benefit from dark mode

Most designers agree that dark UIs are a massive challenge to design, unless you are dealing with simple content and minimal. The reason this is such a challenge is that it’s difficult to maintain sufficient contrast, which as a result, negatively impacts readability, usability, and UX. With light backgrounds, most colors work well, whereas on a dark background the useful range of colors is significantly reduced.

dark UI don’ts
With dark UI, simple is always better.

Range of elements

You might notice a theme here when it comes to dark mode best practices, and that is, simple is always better. Therefore, dark UI is typically a poor choice for apps and websites that require lots of icons, buttons, and small images. This is largely because the dark background will de-accentuate empty space. This causes the opposite effect of negative space. While negative space creates elegant, striking, and dramatic designs, it causes small icons and dense pages to look cluttered, disorganized, and unprofessional. Not only does it look clutter, but it’s also hard to make each element stand out.

Colors

The final dark mode best practices don’t is, no bright colors. Dark mode significantly limits your color options as too many bright colors will clash and result in a harsh and unfriendly appearance. While the occasional splash of color is effective for added emphasis, most of your elements need to be muted neutral colors to effectively pull off a striking dark UI appearance. 

Like any discipline or set of guidelines, dark mode best practices are designed to help you create designs that deliver clear messages to your audience, and prevent you from spending hours on weak and ineffective designs. Without a basic understanding of how to design dark mode, you are at a huge disadvantage over your competitors. We’ll let you in on a little secret - the best designs are simple, consistent, and clean. If you’ve made it this far, we hope you have the tools and a strong understanding of how to design dark mode.

dark mode CloudApp
Switch from 'Light' mode to 'Dark' in settings, and CloudApp will automatically switch over.


CloudApp: Improve your workflow with dark mode

CloudApp offers users a bridge to workplace productivity, and success. As a leading online design tool, our mission is to revolutionize the modern workplace with effective visual communication. In today’s fast-paced work environment, we need seamless software and online tools to stay on track and ahead of the game. However, we are often hindered by ineffective meetings, miscommunications, and complex technology. 


CloudApp’s introduction to dark mode is just one of the many ways we fulfill our mission. You’re likely familiar with the effects blue light can have on your eyesight, sleep, and overall health, and the notion that if you spend a lot of time in front of your computer, it is important that you give your eyes a break. This is just one of the benefits of using dark mode. With CloudApp’s dark mode, you can seamlessly switch from ‘light' mode to 'dark' in the Mac System settings, and CloudApp will automatically switch over to dark mode. Take a look at our step by step tutorial to learn how to turn on dark mode on your Mac.

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