1. 43
  1. 65

    This is one of those things where I simply don’t understand why people insist that empirical science gives a definitive answer, or why people even care what the science says. I switch freely between light and dark schemes, and I do so based on the evidence of… my eyes. If it’s bright in my office I find dark screens harder and more tiring to read. If it’s dark, I find light screens harder to read. I prefer dark, overall, so I keep my office as dark as possible, usually.

    The question of which is “proven” to be superior, in lab conditions not using my eyes, is irrelevant. Having statistics doesn’t make it true.

    1. 12

      …or why people even care what the science says.

      Exactly, especially when it is debatable whether the science is even answering the question we find interesting.

      1. 12

        To some, science is religion, so invoking capital-S science justifies their subjective opinions, as if that’s what it’s for. To the rest of us, it looks quite silly and we can see right through it.

        I blame Solarized for even putting forth the notion that color schemes are anything other than preference.

        1. 10

          It seems like most people need permission from science to have any beliefs at all these days. I think articles like this shake people out of it a bit, but people carry that need with them to everything that’s not obviously subjective.

          I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bringing science into colorschemes or anything, I think most people should try doing a bit more of it because I think programming experience and aesthetic pleasure, while connected, aren’t the same thing. Try using acme colors or otherwise minimal, or turn highlighting off entirely every once in a while. Maybe try rainbowy semantic highlighting if you’re a minimalist already.

          1. 2

            It seems like most people need permission from science to have any beliefs at all these days.

            I think it’s the opposite, no? Many people hold beliefs despite the science, heck, some chunk of them believe that if something rhymes it has to be true.

            The article is trying to answer what is better for some narrow definition of better, that matches author’s beliefs. If it were written in e-simple, it would have had a different message. But, as you and many say, color schemes are highly subjective areas — better is what we claim is better.

            1. 1

              some chunk of them believe that if something rhymes it has to be true.

              Maybe we’re getting off-topic here, but I’ve never known anyone like that. Even the most religious people I know of would warn you that the devil has catchy songs, maybe even more catchy songs than God does.

              1. 1

                I don’t know anyone who claims it at the face value, but there are always subtle psychological effects: https://apoorvupreti.com/if-it-rhymes-it-must-be-true/

        2. 1

          This is something I’ve been wondering about, because I’m one of these people who feels the urge to tell others about how light themes are actually better than they think. What’s the impulse?

          I think it comes down to culture. Dark editor themes seem to be the norm nowadays, and using a light theme actually draws attention. New colleagues will often make surprised comments when they see my editor—in the same way they’d comment about someone not being able to touch type. They don’t outwardly criticize, but it’s transparent it’s not something they expect from an experienced developer.

          So, as a result, it gets me thinking a lot about why I’m using a light theme despite it being a bit looked down upon. It’s very possible this is a common motivation for speaking out about the light/dark science!

        3. 18

          The Pulfrich effect was new to me and I found this very interesting, but I’m not entirely convinced that it follows that dark colour schemes add more cognitive load that light ones. What I would expect is that the scheme with the greater contrast ratio between the “things of interest” and “things not of interest” would lead to the lowest cognitive load.

          For general word processing, a light background with dark text is probably best, because all you care about is word shapes.

          However, there is another effect that may or may not have a name (I can’t remember offhand), which is that colours appear much bolder on a dark background than on a light one. Try looking at #ff0000 on a white background vs a black background and it will stand out far more intensely and appear “more red” against the black background.

          Programmers tend to use colours for syntax highlighting. I believe that does make it faster to parse code in the same way that lowercase word outlines make it faster to parse text. With a dark theme, it’s not just the contrast between foreground and background in play: the contrast between characters of different colours will also be greater. That matters to programmers.

          It would be interesting to see some actual scientific evidence to support any claims that dark or light themes are objectively better. It is not especially scientific to jump to a conclusion based on a single, tangentially-related piece of evidence. It does make an interesting hypothesis, but it needs to be properly tested.

          1. 12

            i think the insanely low contrast setting that seem to be the fashion now probably contribute more to cognitive loading.

            And I am a proud light-theme, decent contrast user.

            1. 11

              I figured the comments would look like this, based on how many coders like dark themes. Honestly it doesn’t matter how scientific the evidence in this article isor isn’t, because if you disagree with its conclusions you’re all smart enough to find something you can invalidate it for. That’s the way our brains are wired, and being smart doesn’t really reduce that tendency, in fact it can make it worse because it’s easy for us to act like know-it-alls.

              But yes, there is science behind this. For me, astigmatism is the clincher: it’s very common and it very definitely reduces optical acuity when the iris is wide open, i.e. looking at a dark scene, because basic optics. I have it, and this effect is very noticeable. (It’s not the only reason, though.)

              And yes, there have been scientific studies of reading and legibility for, oh, at least a century. As far back as the 1960s it was known that black text on a pale green or yellow background results in the least eye strain and best comprehension.

              1. 9

                What kind of “science” makes blanket statements like that?

                Now I reckon there are people who can’t use a light colour scheme because of an eye illness. There are legitimate cases when dark colour schemes are better for some people’s health, the exceptions to the rule.

                Based on science, light colour schemes are worse for those people.

                1. 9

                  I RTFA and didn’t find any science to support the attention grabbing headline.

                  1. 3

                    Kind of wish we could rewrite the headline here to remove the clickbait.

                    1. 1

                      I think the fact that we can’t is kind of the point. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge an article by it’s headline.

                  2. 8

                    I did try out using dark-on-light a while ago, mostly because it allows me to have the brightness of my screen much lower while still being able to read text clearly without eye strain. However, I feel like “Light colour schemes are better, based on science” is really quite a stretch – the evidence for this is sparse and in as complicated a topic as human perception I’d want to see a big meta-analysis, or at least a decent number of papers finding similar results before making any conclusions. Though perhaps there is more evidence than they cited here.

                    1. 8

                      Starts with the “science” part of:

                      The Pulfrich effect […] yields about a 15 ms delay for a factor of ten difference in average retinal illuminance

                      Then pass-the-messages this into “eye processing power” – whatever that is??? – which ultimately becomes “more load for your brain.”

                      Using a dark colour scheme to write code requires more eye processing power than using a light colour scheme.

                      but more processing power does mean you add more load to your brain, meaning that a dark colour scheme actually is more exhaustive

                      Implicating the brain is an unsubstantiated leap. For all we know, this could be due to limitations of the retina–like exposure time with film and CCDs (needing more time in the low-light scenario to capture enough photons to reach activation potential), or something else entirely.

                      1. 12

                        Whatever. I prefer dark themes.

                        1. 5

                          But Science came to me in a dream and told me: Light schemes are better, my child

                        2. 5

                          Anecdotal, but I started using light colorschemes after one observation. Where I work there is a small clock in the distance and when checking time I was used to turning my head to see the clock. When I was using dark schemes there was this delay where I had to blink a few times before being able to focus the numbers written on the clock. However after changing to a light scheme I now see the clock instantly. Also seems like my eyes got more comfortable when it’s extremely light outside. So if you experience any discomfort like that after looking at a screen for a long period and are now using a dark theme - changing to a lighter color might help.

                          1. 4

                            I just switch depending on how much natural light I have. Lots of natural light: Solarized Light. Not a lot: Solarized Dark.

                            1. 4

                              In before someone claims they’ve got special eyes which are different from everyone else’s.

                              1. 3

                                The most common complaint I hear is headaches. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who are very light sensitive and do get headaches, but most people should try turning the brightness down before putting themselves into that category.

                                1. 6

                                  Newer monitors are bright AF.

                                  My wife was able to buy a monitor with someone else’s money, so I recommended she get the LG Ultrafine 5k. It’s an amazing monitor, and way too bright at default settings. We both would get headaches from using it until we knocked the brightness down a notch or two.

                                  1. 3

                                    yeah I also discovered that with my new monitor, it actually improved a bunch when I changed to backlight color from cold to warm, but it skews color correctness on it.

                                    1. 3

                                      Every time I have tried adjusting a modern monitor for comfort, I’ve put the brightness setting the lowest value offered by the firmware and it’s still too bright.

                                  2. 3

                                    its not that someone does or does not have “special eyes” its a what are you optimizing for as always, because if you go look at the stats in a different direction using a cool colored backlight, light themes increase eyestrain and mess with your sleep cycles due to artificial blue light exposure, dark schemes reduce that. Light schemes are less power efficient on modern display panels so if you are optimizing for battery life guess what dark theme wins. Then when you get to “special eyes” there are a lot of people who have Myopia or Astigmatism, which dark themes can produce halation, chances are light themes are better for you there. If you are trying to present on a large screen having a theme that is somewhere in the middle, and a little darker for dark rooms and a little lighter for light rooms wins.

                                    My point is more or less there is a ton of nuance here where saying “SEE SEE SEE SEE SEE SCIENCE PROVES MY PERSONAL PREFERENCES RIGHT” is wrong, and the author honestly skips over all of that to justify their own preferences for some reason.

                                    1. 6

                                      My point is more or less there is a ton of nuance here where saying “SEE SEE SEE SEE SEE SCIENCE PROVES MY PERSONAL PREFERENCES RIGHT” is wrong, and the author honestly skips over all of that to justify their own preferences for some reason.

                                      “I’m right because science” is a tactic to insulate against criticism, it preemptively accuses you of “denying science” if you dare to disagree.

                                  3. 2

                                    Yeah. I think dark themes look cooler and there are a wide variety. I tried but the web is mostly light. I tried contrast switchers in Chrome and Firefox but they don’t always work. Having trails from some Harvey Two Face splits wasn’t great. So I switched to light for terminal and editor.

                                    Find the thing that works for you I guess. Try new stuff, sharpen your tools but don’t waste too much time like me. I check myself when I switch themes: is this just messing around or am I actually tired of the scenery?