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Experience Design

Dark Mode and Digital Accessibility: Who it Helps and Without it, Who it May Hinder

If you only knew the power of the Dark Side mode…

Ok, it might be a slightly altered quote from Darth Vader, but you get the point. Dark mode can be very powerful indeed for those who require it and those that it just makes viewing convenient. Let’s take a few minutes to talk about dark mode and its benefits in inclusive design.

What is Dark Mode?

The dark mode is the color/contrast combination of your interface using brighter or light text on top of a darker background. Designing for dark mode isn’t as simple as just reversing the standard light mode commonly used (light background with dark text), but addressing each use of fonts, images, and components independently.

Dark mode gives the user the option to switch between the default of light and dark mode as their situation or disability dictates. Forcing dark mode either by default setting or timing isn’t inclusive user experience, and it’s not a trend or fad, but a way of thinking when designing for all users like all-inclusive design

Who is Dark Mode Important to?

Dark mode can benefit all users in different situations but some users have specific disabilities that warrant specific solutions. Dark mode reduces the amount of bright light you’re seeing from your screen. This can be extremely helpful when used in low-light situations, not only for the user but for those around the user. You know when you’re on an evening flight trying to catch a quick nap and the person next to you starts working on their device and it feels as though a train is coming directly at you? You can see the light through your eyelids!

Another example is the ability to view your screen in an outdoor environment to fight glare from the sun. These are common non-accessible examples of everyday situations that dark mode can solve for a user that is not having accessibility issues because of a disability. Dark mode also assists those with other disabilities, such as users that are sensitive to light, suffer from cataracts, related low vision disorders, or users with chronic migraines.

Some users have a disability that isn’t ongoing like others, so having the ability to easily toggle between dark mode and light mode without having to jump to settings or preferences makes it that much more user-friendly for all. A good example of this is the recently inclusive and accessibly redesigned White House website. Along with creating an easy-to-find toggle for light and dark mode they have also incorporated the ability to toggle between smaller and larger font sizing. Again, like light and dark mode design, the font option is not simply applying a larger font, but a fully inclusive design of the site making the font larger but also more legible.

Industry Leaders

More and more influential companies such as Apple, Google, Instagram, and Facebook are giving their users the ability to choose dark mode. Imagine reviewing your financial portfolio, energy usage, or credit card statement, and being unable to distinguish the colors on charts or graphs because of a disability. Vital industries are realizing and addressing this for their users with dark mode and other inclusive design solutions:

Healthcare: Hospitals, doctor portals, and test results

Financial: Online Banking, investing, and financial trends

Energy: Apps, paying your bills, viewing your usage

Too many organizations have been reactive to accessible design demands of their users and accessibility standards in the past and have lost customers or even faced litigation, but now 8 in 10 companies are working to achieve digital accessibility. In 2020, a post on the Nielsen Norman Group regarding dark mode vs. light mode was the number one most read user experience piece for the entire year.

My Key Takeaways for Using Dark Mode

The industry’s top companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, as well as leaders in fields in Healthcare, Financial, and Energy are using dark mode as means of creating an inclusive design for users to keep them as returning online consumers. Dark mode can be helpful to all, as it improves accessibility, attention, and focus, and creates less strain on the eyes for not just your users with a disability, but all users. For more information, check out our web design styles series, and contact our experience design experts today.




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Tim Perry

Tim Perry is a Senior Art Director at Perficient based in St. Louis, where he works with Healthcare, Energy, and Ecommerce organizations to build accessible user-centered digital experiences.

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