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How to Get Dark Mode Design Right

Dark themes are everywhere these days. 

As human beings continue to spend more of their time interacting with technology, dark themes provide a more relaxing way to engage with the digital world. More often than not, these themes are easier on the eyes, more attractive, and perfect for the dedicated user

Throughout 2020, countless leading brands have debuted their own version of the dark theme. Google has a solution for your Drive, while Apple and Android have built dark theme performance right into their operating systems. 

If you haven’t learned how to make the most out of dark mode yet, then you could be missing out on an excellent opportunity to differentiate your design skills, and earn more clients going forward. 

Why Dark Mode?

Before we dive too deeply into the possibilities of creating your own dark theme, let’s examine what dark mode is, and why it’s so effective. 

Ultimately, dark themes are created to reduce the amount of luminance emitted by everything from your desktop and laptop, to your smartphone and smartwatch. Dark themes help to improve the visual ergonomics of design, by reducing eye strain, adjusting brightness to suit current lighting conditions, and more. Additionally, many dark mode offerings are also fantastic at conserving battery life. 

Here are some of the main benefits of adding dark themes to your design portfolio

  • Better user experience: A focus on user experience is one of the most important trends of the digital age. You need to be willing to deliver incredible experiences to everyone who visits your website if you want to stand out today. Dark mode reduces everything from eye strain, to battery power consumption. This helps to keep customers on a website for longer.
  • Innovation and cutting edge appeal: Most companies want to prove that they can stay on the cutting edge of their industry. The ability to offer an opt-in dark mode version of a website theme or appearance can help your clients to stand out from the crowd. As the environment becomes more mobile-focused, more companies will be looking for designers that can provide the best mobile experiences. 
  • Support for universal design: Dark mode isn’t just great for people who have light sensitivity at night. This solution could be more comfortable for visually-impaired users who would struggle with eye strain when visiting your websites otherwise. If you want your content to be more inclusive for a wider range of viewers, then learning how to design for dark mode is a good way to start.

Best Practices When Designing for Dark Mode

Designing for dark mode is easier than you’d think. Most of the time, it involves simply thinking about how you can replace some of the brighter, more overwhelming aspects of your site, with something deeper and darker. 

Here are some useful tips that will get you moving in the right direction. 

1. Experiment with Colors

A big issue for a lot of web designers when it comes to developing a dark mode solution is that they get too caught up with things like pure white text against pure black backgrounds. However, this high-contrast option can be a little much after a while. 

It’s often much easier to use a dark grey as your primary surface color, instead of a true black. Additionally, rather than using bright white, think about slightly off-white alternatives that will be warmer to the eye.

Experiment with surfaces and color combinations that are unlikely to cause too much eye strain. Dark grey foundations often offer a wider range of depth, too, because you can demonstrate shadows on grey. 

Additionally, when you are experimenting with colors, remember that saturated colors often vibrate painfully against very dark surfaces, making them harder to read. Desaturating your colors will help to reduce the contrast and make your websites more welcoming. 

Lighter tones in the 200-50 range will have better readability on dark themes. However, you can always experiment with your choices. Google Material Design recommends using a contrast level of around 15:8:1 between your background and text. 

2. Consider the Emotional Impact

Much of the effort involved with dark mode design is figuring out how certain colors work together. It’s easy to get carried away with stark contrasts, particularly when you’re used to working with a white background. However, you need to remember that you’re designing for a user that’s primarily looking for an easier and more subdued browsing experience.

While you’re working, remember to consider the emotional aspect of the design too. The emotion in colors can make or break a buyer’s journey in any environment. However, an often overlooked-aspect of color psychology, is that people perceive shades differently when they’re on a black background

For instance, think of the color green. On a light background, it conveys nature and even financial wealth. However, on a dark background, the same green could come across as something venomous, toxic, or even sickly. It’s important to think about the kind of impressions end users are going to get when they arrive on your site.

3. Give Users the Freedom to Choose

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you begin designing for dark mode, is thinking that you should focus entirely on your dark themes, and nothing else. This lines you up for a problem if you interact with users who want the best of both worlds. If you’re designing for apps in particular, you’re going to need web pages that can switch naturally between light and dark themes. 

Learning how to implement both a dark mode and a light mode option into the desks you create will help you to reach a wider selection of customers. Remember, you’ll need to test the performance and impact of your designs in both themes, to check that they deliver the same kind of experience, no matter how your user chooses to browse. 

Although dark mode should offer a different experience to end-users, it still needs to feel as though they’re browsing on the same website. That means that you’re going to need to experiment with the most natural combination of light and dark mode options.

4. Remember the Basics

Remember, although the three tips above will help you to get on the right path for dark mode design, you’ll also need to consider the opportunities and limitations of the platforms that you’re designing for. The kind of dark mode experience you can deliver for Google Chrome websites is going to be very different to what you can create for something running on iOS.

Examining the documentation provided by the system that you’re designing for will help you to develop something with a close insight into what’s actually possible. 

Other top tips for dark mode design include:

  • Focus on your content: Make sure that your content stands out on the page, without being too overwhelming. 
  • Test your design: In both light and dark appearances, you need to make sure everything is working as it should be.
  • Adopt vibrancy for your interfaces: Vibrancy helps to improve the contrast between your background and foreground. 
  • Use semantic colors: Semantic colors adapt to the current appearance of a website automatically. Hard-coded color values that don’t adapt can seem more aggressive. 
  • Desktop tinting: Try experiment with things like transparency and filters to give your websites and apps a slightly warmer tint – ideal for late-night browsing
  • Icons: Use individual glyphs and icons for dark and light modes if necessary. 

Ready to Design for Dark Mode?

Preparing your web development and design portfolio for an era addicted to dark mode can be a complex experience. You need to think carefully about how people are going to browse through your websites and apps when they’re searching for something more subtle, and less visually overwhelming than the websites that we’re used to making. 

The most important thing to remember is that everything on your website or application should look just as beautifully tailor-made in dark mode as it does in light mode. Simply adding a dynamic black background when people want to switch settings in an app isn’t enough. You need to go in-depth with your designs and examine how different fonts, colors, and images work together.

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Web Design for Seniors: UX From a Mature Perspective

It’s no secret that the senior population is growing. By 2030, people over the age of 65 are predicted to make up 20.6% of the population of the US. 

Around the world, people are living longer and remaining more active in the later years of their lives. What’s more, despite what you might have heard in the past, seniors aren’t as wary of the internet as they used to be. In 2019, the Pew Research institute revealed that 73% of people over the age of 65 were connected to the web. 

So, what does that mean for web designers?

your main focus needs to be on ability…people age differently

Well, first of all, it’s time for all of us to start thinking about user experience from different perspectives. We need to stop expecting our audiences to be made up entirely of iPhone-using millennials and start thinking about the needs of seniors too. After all, designing websites for seniors opens you up to a wide selection of potential visitors in the future.

What’s more, according to the US Census Bureau, people over the age of 65 generally have the highest household wealth figures of any age group. That’s a big deal. 

So, how do you adapt UX for seniors?

Creating Senior-Friendly Web Designs

When it comes to designing websites and applications for seniors, your main focus needs to be on ability. Age is just a number, and people age differently. 

That means that one person in their 70s might have no problem browsing through Netflix to watch the latest shows, while someone else wouldn’t be able to tell you what ‘streaming’ means. 

Rather than worrying specifically about age, think about how different people in older age groups might have different requirements when it comes to things like movement control, hearing, vision, and even device bias. 

Get the Visual Elements Right

Vision loss is by far the most common disability reported by elderly individuals in the US. Around one in six people over the age of 70 have some manner of visual impairment. That’s why UI designers need to think carefully about visual accessibility when creating the right websites. 

For instance, text and button sizes should always be kept large. Anything that needs to be read or clicked needs to be scaled up, to ensure that everyone can see the information clearly. For instance, on the Sandinmysuitcase.com website, you’ll find clear typography, combined with big buttons that tell you to “Start Here” so you know exactly what to do next.

Remember to stick to icons that are clearly labelled wherever possible. Stay away from anything that your customers might not understand. “Start Here” is easier to read and understand than “Submit”. 

It’s also worth sticking to the color and contrast guidelines laid out by basic UX design when you’re creating something for optimal visibility.  Colors that are too close together might create a nice pastel or gradient effect on a website – but they’ll also make things difficult to read. 

Concentrate on Usability

Over the age of 55, motor skills and coordination can begin to decline for some people. These changes make it harder for people to interact with complex UIs. The mouse on a computer can be a particular problem for people with diminishing motor skills – as can the touchscreen of a tablet or smartphone. 

When you’re working on the perfect UX, think about how you can make things as easy to click as possible for people who have a hard time hitting their targets. For instance, in this website for people traveling over the age of 50, you’ll see not only fantastic large font choices but big buttons that are descriptive and easy to understand too: “Click here to start planning your trip”:

The scrollbar can also be a bit of a problem for people with impaired motor skills. Because of this, it’s best to keep your focus on designing above the fold. Make sure that users don’t need to scroll far to find the information that they need and keep scrollbars simple in terms of their look and feel.

While you’re working on usability, remember that it will be important to keep interactions to a minimum wherever possible. Where you can engage younger audiences with double-taps, swiping and scrolling, it’s much easier to connect with seniors through simple one-tap interactions. The less actions your user needs to take to reach their goals, the better. 

Deliver Smooth Navigation 

Navigating from point A to B on your website needs to be as simple as seamless as possible. Remember, crowded pages on your websites and apps are often overwhelming – even for younger browsers. Seniors are generally just searching for “must know” information, so they don’t want anything to get in their way as they navigate through their website. 

As you work on your site or app design, ask yourself if every element on the page absolutely has to be there. If it doesn’t deliver value, then get rid of it. 

Additionally, remember that seniors don’t always have the best memories and concentration levels. That means that they need your navigation experience to be as simple as possible. Basic horizontal menu bars that show everything at once are often a good idea – even if they’re not very exciting.

Look at this helpful navigation experience from RetireMove.com, for instance. Everything you need is located at the top of the page, and you can even just enter your postcode to get started:

Cognitive decline happens regularly with age. Although not all older adults will have issues with their memory and concentration, it’s important to be prepared for an audience that might process information a little more slowly. It’s worth double-checking that your viewer’s attention isn’t being diverted to multiple parts of the page at once.

Get to the Point Quickly

While younger generations have quickly implemented technology into every aspect of their lives, older consumers use tech a little differently. These people don’t want to spend forever fiddling around with different parts of your website. They want to get the answers to their questions as quickly and easily as possible. 

Applications that are complicated or difficult to access are usually instantly rejected by seniors. Even if you’ve offered everything that we’ve covered above, from seamless navigation to minimalist design, you still won’t get the interactions you’re looking for if older adults don’t consider your design to be useful. 

Because of this, you need to highlight the point of a website or application to your seniors as quickly as possible. Avoid worrying about things like gifs, animations and gamification. Instead, focus on making sure that your designs are useful and simple. 

For instance, from the moment your senior user arrives on a web page, they should have instant access to clear instructions on how to use the application or service, and what they need to do next. Keep in mind that this is particularly important when you’re creating mobile apps, as apps are still a relatively new concept to older generations. 

On the “When They Get Older” website, you can instantly find the information you need in a well-organized navigation bar that’s labelled clearly:

A clear interface like this, combined with simple, step-by-step guidance that shows elderly individuals how to get the information that they want is the key to keeping these users coming back for more. 

Bringing a Mature Perspective to Web Design

These days, most designers focus heavily on younger audiences when creating websites and apps. After all, it’s these users that allow us to experiment more with the latest tools and concepts, like augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robust animations. 

However, there’s still a market out there for the seniors of the world that want more opportunities to get online. This audience often goes ignored and under-served. However, as the value of older consumers grows, and their ability to interact online increases, you’ll find that more businesses begin to search for web designers who can provide immersive experiences for a more mature audience. 

The steps above will give you an excellent insight into how you can start designing for a different kind of customer base. However, remember that the best way to make sure that you’re delivering the right solution for any customer, is to test. User testing will provide you with the exclusive insights that you need to determine whether your senior UX is really working, or whether you’re still struggling to get into the shoes of an older user. 

 

Featured image via Unsplash.

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