What is “Dark Mode” - And Why It Matters for Business Owners and Their Employees

Sean Lund-Brown

The innovations and changes in technology are a lot for any business to keep up with. New features like Dark Mode are popping up all over the place, claiming to help “improve visibility, “make it easier to stay focused”, and even “reduce eye strain”-- but regardless of the claims, the message is clear: everyone needs Dark Mode. Thus, many people are getting on board. 

All of the major systems offer their own themes that reflect the light text on a black background that Dark Mode is known for. It not only looks cool, but many tech companies are even claiming that it will improve the time people are spending on their screens. Plenty of developers are in a hurry to create compatible modes for their own apps, but there’s still a huge debate as to just what benefits, if any, come from using Dark Mode. 

More than 70% of Americans report experiencing digital eye strain, which comes from having to focus and refocus their eyes throughout the day. This is more frequent with technology and digital devices, including computers, smartphones, and more. Several people claim that Dark Mode is the answer, but are they right?

What evolution says

According to professional researchers, the idea that this dark background actually improves screen readability, reduces eye strain, or offers any similar benefits is just completely out of line with the way that human bodies have evolved—we live in a world where we are used to seeing items against a lighter background, in most cases, since things are being lit by the sun or artificial light. Studies have shown that reading comprehension is higher for black text on white backgrounds, in fact. 

Evolutionarily speaking, humans have never been “night” creatures—we sleep at night. Thus, seeing in the dark is not our forte. While some might suggest that tools like Dark Mode reduce eye strain, it’s far more likely that tools like blue light filters will prove to be more advantageous here, as well as in improving productivity for tired, overworked eyes. 

What is dark mode and how does it work?

Now, bear in mind that this mode is more than just black backgrounds and white text—the entire premise of Dark Mode was to make the most important content stand out. The intentions behind this solution are good—the focus is on helping reduce strain with muted color palettes, darker colors, and making sure that only the most relevant text is standing out. 

Depending on the device that you’re using and the OS that you are trying to access this mode on, you may have limited access to the tool. As of 2018 when the feature was released by Apple, for example, it was available for all Mac desktops and laptops. Then, they added the feature to iOS for iPhones that were running iOS13 or later. 

Similar things happened with Windows and Android when they created their own versions of this darker screen theme. Most brands started with themes and displays that allowed several users to get the experience of Dark Mode without actually having the specific feature available to them. 

Exploring the purported “benefits” of dark mode

So, evolution took care of the idea that this mode could help improve reading comprehension or ability—it's actually quite the opposite. It’s far more likely that using this feature will make people slower readers and result in lower productivity across the board. Not only that, but this mode is objectively a bad choice for anyone with astigmatism. 

We’re not healthcare professionals, by any means, but the fact of the matter is that this tool was designed for health benefits and improved technology use. Many believe that switching to dark mode can decrease headaches, improve sleep quality, and improve other symptoms that are related to the negative effects of screen time. 

In short, people will be healthier and happier if they are using this mode to reduce the strain and make accessing the web easier. If that is the case, then marketers are in for a treat with this tool—if people want to spend more time on their screens, they’re going to be much better targets for your email marketing and other campaigns. 

What about battery life?

A lot of companies that are trying to sell the benefits of this tool will also report that it can save battery life and help people get more out of their devices. That’s generally not a huge benefit that should be at the top of your list. Yes, reducing the screen brightness can save battery power. However, when you enable “Dark Mode”, you’re engaging another function on the phone that takes memory and space to run. Therefore, unless you have a premium device with an OLED display, you aren’t going to save a lot of energy. 

Old LED screens are backlit, and that lighting doesn’t reduce energy when projecting black. That's why when games or movies are really dark, they can still light a room. With OLED displays, however, black pixels cast no light, which can save a little battery power here and there. However, this isn’t a benefit on its own that makes the feature worth having. 

Time waste

Another big issue that people overlook is that if this mode does indeed work to reduce eye strain, won’t people be less productive and spend more time wasted on social media, doom scrolling, or even just looking through their emails and apps without realizing how much time they’ve lost? For all the supposed benefits of this mode, it may actually prove to be more of a productivity killer for some workspaces and employees who take advantage of the comfortable viewing and forget all about doing their work. 

Sure, it’s great if your customers are spending more time on their devices because that means they’re consuming more, interacting with your business more, reading more of your marketing emails, and so forth. Engaging features of dark themes will also allow you to send cooler emails and messages to your customers, but again if your employees are using this mode and enjoying it, they are probably enjoying things unrelated to work. 

Imagine bringing up a document on your computer that has a black background. You start typing and the text is in white—this is a startling contrast to the brain, that’s used to seeing dark-on-light in most cases, and it’s not going to be effective for most working situations. However, when your smartphone is dark and no one can see what’s happening, some employees might try to use this mode to distract from work or take away time that could be spent on projects that require their attention. 

Noticing that Dark Mode helps is great, but if it ends up leading to endless scrolling or taking away from work and productivity, it’s not helping in the way that it should. Some employers are even disabling or removing this feature from company devices because they can already see that it’s not doing much to benefit people (besides making them think it helps) and it’s detracting from the day-to-day business that needs attention. 

What if you like it?

Well, at the end of the day, the pros and cons of dark mode don’t matter if you just like the feature. Some people will use it swearing that it does what it claims to. Others simply think it looks cool to have their phone all dark. Others like it for the privacy aspect. It doesn’t matter what it means to you in the end because if you enjoy it, you should use it. 

As a business owner, what you can take away from this is that while there are no guarantees here, you may not even need to worry about this tool at the moment. If your employees are working during normal business hours, their eyes should be used to the ‘daylight’ effect and not need the dark mode. It might even just become more detrimental to people’s progress and productivity at work. 

Now, you’re not going to try to regulate or mandate what people are doing with their personal devices, but you can advise or ask them not to use this mode on work devices if you feel it’s detrimental. 

Can dark mode help marketing?

As a business owner, this is your next big concern. We've touched on it briefly, but now we want to dig into the details to help you better understand how Dark Mode can help marketing, or whether it can at all. Think about all the things that people use their phones for emails, text messages, social media, calendars, games, etc. 

When apps are created in Dark Mode, they offer a unique interface that might give people more incentive to check them out. Even something like integrating a dark theme in an email app could make consumers more likely to read marketing emails just because they don’t have to look at the stark white page like they did in the past. 

Of course, you’re still going to want to focus your marketing efforts here. When trying to accommodate dark themes, you’ll want to focus on the copy that you are creating more than the images and backgrounds. You won’t be able to keep embedded email backgrounds with this mode, after all, so it doesn’t matter and isn’t going to be worth your time. 

Apple and others are working to generate things like SF symbols, which are commonly used in email marketing as ways to break up text. You can also create your own graphics and symbols, but you have to make sure that they don’t blend into the background. This mode is changing the options that people have and the way they handle email marketing, and that’s just one way the landscape is evolving. 

Remember, consumers are buying into this feature even without doing their own research about whether any of the claims are true. For your business, that means that you’ve got an opportunity to reach people who are spending more time on their phones and to connect with them in new ways to ensure that messages and communications render properly in dark themes just as they would in standard mode. 

The takeaway: buy into the hype, but only once you’ve done your homework

New features like this will always be heavily debated upon their debut. However, when you have the right tools and a team of professionals on your side, it won’t matter whether you find Dark Mode to be an asset or a drawback—when you do your marketing right, it won’t matter at all. The debate will likely rage on for some time, but the bottom line is clear: people think it works. 

As long as people think Dark Mode is a successful invention, you’ll be able to use it to your advantage to generate better marketing emails, create more unique content, and reach people who are more willing to spend time on their devices because they don’t feel the strain of bright screens. 

However, you’ll also have to remember that it could cost you valuable productivity with your employees if they feel that it’s so useful that they can’t put down their phones. It's a delicate balance, but for the most part, it’s like anything else—you have to know what you’re getting into. Whether you’re trying to help your business or just help customers who are feeling the strain of all that screen time, there’s a lot to consider here. 

Speaking of feeling the strain, stop letting the logistics weigh you down. Enlist the assistance of the virtual receptionists at Smith.ai to handle all the logistics and automate the most essential parts of your business so that you can focus on delivering the best customer experience with or without Dark Mode on your side. Call us at (650) 727-6484 or email hello@smith.ai to find out how we can help you streamline your customer service and other mission-critical services so that you can get more from your business with less effort on your part.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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