Developers Prefer Dark Mode: Why?

Here’s why developers prefer dark mode:

Whether or not developers prefer dark mode depends on the person and the setup.

But, when they do prefer dark mode, it is usually because it makes things easier to see, reduces eye strain, and/or helps them stay productive at work.

While the science on dark mode is still out, this is how some developers feel.

So if you want to learn all about the reasons why software developers prefer dark mode, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump into it!

Developers Prefer Dark Mode: Why? (Everything to Know)

What Is Dark Mode?

If you really want to get into the headspace of developers on this one, we should probably start at the beginning.

What is a dark mode?

It’s a visual arrangement you can use with modern devices that tries to reduce the overall amount of light being emitted by a screen.

That’s pretty technical, but if you use a smartphone, you’ve probably come across dark mode before.

They recommend a version of it at night, where the screen brightness is reduced by default.

The assumption is that you’re in a darker setting at night, so reducing the brightness is easier on your eyes.

Dark mode is a similar concept, but it changes the color palette instead of the screen brightness.

So, white space is replaced with black space.

Many colors are inverted, and when everything is pushed through, you find that there’s a lot less light hitting your eyes while you use dark mode.

In fact, if you’re reading this on a browser, you can probably turn dark mode on to see what it looks like.

The steps are a little different for each browser, so I’ll just explain how to do it with Chrome.

At the top right of your browser, you can tap or click where it says “More Settings.”

Go to themes, and from the list available, you can choose the “Dark” theme.

This will enable dark mode, and you can see what this is all about.

What Are Developers?

Alright. Hopefully, you have a good idea of what dark mode is.

Let’s cover the other half of this equation.

What are developers?

Most people have a rough idea of what a developer does for a living, but we can be a little specific.

In this case, we’re talking about app and software developers.

These are the people who make the programs and apps that we use on our devices every day.

The full range of things that developers make would produce a ridiculously long list, so let’s keep it simple.

If a computer can do the thing, a software developer was involved.

In many cases, software developers spend long hours staring at computer screens.

They often write countless lines of code.

When they aren’t writing code, they might be doing research for a development project, or they could be testing the things they have made.

No matter how you spin it, they’re staring at a computer screen more often than not.

As you can guess, this is going to factor into the answer to your original question.

Why Do Developers Like Dark Mode? (4 Reasons)

The prerequisites are done. 

Why do developers like dark mode?

For the most part, I can summarize it into four ideas.

It’s easier on the eyes, helps with focus, looks cool, and saves power.

#1 It’s Easier on the Eyes

This is the one that you saw coming.

Looking at a bright white screen can make your eyes feel tired and strained.

It can induce headaches, lead to blurred vision, and increase general mental fatigue.

So, a lot of developers like dark mode because it reduces that strain and the related effects.

They feel like their eyes don’t get as tired, and their bodies don’t experience as much cumulative stress as a result.

Now, it’s worth taking a moment to talk about the science behind all of this.

The dark mode preference is just that. 

Studies have not definitely shown that dark mode is actually better for your eyes.

Reducing blue light that comes to your eyes has measurable benefits, but you don’t need dark mode to achieve that.

What most of the scientific research shows is that taking breaks is the most important thing.

But, we’re talking about what developers prefer dark mode today, not what the best measures actually are.

#2 Helps With Focus

The focus idea drifts away from any scientific or medical argument.

The simple truth is that if you feel less strain using dark mode, then you’ll probably maintain a better mental state while you work.

Again, this is based on the developer’s beliefs, but a common attitude is that dark mode helps with focus over a long sitting on a computer.

Supposedly, there is less desire to look away, which leads to fewer distractions when using a dark theme on the computer.

There’s also an idea of color contrasting at play.

The idea here is that you get better color contrasts against a dark background, making it easier to take in the information provided by the screen.

This contrast makes it feel like they don’t have to work as hard to read everything.

It’s also possible to use very different coding color conventions on a dark background.

A custom setup can make it easier for a developer to organize their code, and that can also help them avoid burnout and maintain focus.

#3 Dark Mode Is Cool

This won’t apply to all developers, but some of them simply like the visuals of dark mode more.

You’ve surely seen TV shows or movies where a hacker sits in a dark room with multiple monitors displaying green text on a black background.

Some developers really enjoy this cultural element of their work, and they like to steer into it.

It’s enough to create a preference for dark mode.

They can set up their screen just like the imagery in a favorite movie or TV show, and that can actually create a positive mental state that helps them succeed.

If you’re having more fun at work, it might be easier to stay productive.

It’s worth noting that a lot of code editors and developmental tools allow for color customization.

It’s important to see how things might look with different color palettes, and that makes it easy for developers to try any setup that they prefer.

And, if doing this helps a developer have a better day at work, why not?

#4 Reduced Power Draw

The final compelling argument is rooted in empirical evidence and science, and it’s fairly indisputable.

Dark modes and themes are intended to reduce the light output coming from a monitor.

That’s the whole point, and by and large, they succeed on this front.

So, if the monitor is producing less light, that means it’s using less energy.

The amount of energy saved depends heavily on the setup in use, but it still counts.

Whether the developer is trying to lower their carbon footprint in small ways or maximize the battery life on a laptop (or any other motivation), dark mode can help.

In fact, when using dark mode on specific types of monitors, the power savings can be significant.

For the most part, organic LED monitors (OLEDs) benefit the most from dark mode, and OLED screens are increasing in use and popularity. 

Also, power savings are higher if you have a brighter screen. It makes sense really.

A screen has to output more energy to keep up with higher brightness metrics, so if you darken the content on such a screen, you save more total energy. 

Why Would a Developer Avoid Dark Mode? (2 Reasons)

I’ve spent a fair amount of time explaining why developers prefer dark mode, but that’s not always the case.

Some developers prefer standard modes, and even among developers who like dark mode, there will be times when light themes are better.

So, to be thorough about this whole thing, I’ll take you through the other side of the argument.

These are the two primary reasons to avoid dark mode during software development.

#1 Reflections

As we’ve established, dark mode reduces the light output from the monitor or screen.

As a consequence of that, reflections show up better on dark mode displays.

You can test this for yourself, and it’s most pronounced if you have a window behind you (during daylight hours).

The light from behind you is naturally going to bounce off of the glass on your screen.

But, your screen is putting off light of its own, and the light emitted by the screen can actually overpower the light that is reflecting from your background.

If you put two and two together, it all makes sense.

A dark mode screen emits less light, so it’s not as able to overpower reflections.

The end result is that dark screens show more reflections, and under the right conditions, that can interfere with software development.

If a developer is having problems with reflections, they might switch off of dark mode.

#2 Trouble Viewing Text

The second reason is probably the most compelling.

Not all dark mode themes are easy for all people to read.

You might try one and find that it’s actually a lot harder to read, and effectively, you have increased your eye strain by using dark mode.

Naturally, this varies from person to person and will depend on the specific dark mode theme in use.

But, if dark mode is causing problems, the clear course of action is to turn it off.

And, for developers, this extends a little further.

If a developer is testing a visual element that they have built, anything that isn’t clearly visible and easy to understand is a sign that they need to go back and fix some things.

So, they might want to compare dark mode and light mode to see what looks good and what looks bad.

If it looks bad in light mode, then it’s not ready for the next step in development.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.