Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

This Sucks   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]You’re reading MakeUseOf right now, a website which primarily uses dark text on a light background. Which is as it should be. That bar across the top with light text on a dark background, and the section at the bottom which hardly anyone reads, are fine because they’re just small parts of the site. Any more and I would have to give my bosses advice on how to improve the look and feel of the site as a whole – because websites with dark backgrounds completely suck.

You don’t agree with that assessment? Then read on as I argue why this is the case. If you still disagree when you reach the end then I’m afraid there is no saving you from the poor website design future you have set off on the path towards. There’s a reason 99 percent (completely made-up figure) of the Web uses dark text on light backgrounds…

Website Design

Black on White   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

Website design is constantly evolving. Just type any URL into The Wayback Machine to see quite how far we have come in the last 15 years. The elements included on a webpage have changed, with different media embedded and integrated fully. Oh, and there are now adverts everywhere you look. Which can be annoying but keep sites such as MakeUseOf free for all to use.

However, most websites still retain that all-important component that is text. With the exception of photo blogs and suchlike, if there is no text then there is no way of knowing what you are looking at or the reason you’re meant to be looking at it. Text on webpages should be black on a white (or at least light) background. For the most part.

Black and White

Ying and Yang   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

Books are primarily made up of white paper and black text. This is therefore the standard way humanity has learned to read printed materials. When computers first hit the mainstream they shipped with monochrome displays, so many of us had a first experience with green text on a black background. Boy, did that suck. Thankfully color monitors soon took over.

When the Web started evolving into the place we know today, many sites took a weird and wacky approach to design. Garish color schemes and flashing text were all the rage. Thankfully we once again moved on, and most of the Web now follows a very careful and considered design line which sees usability and readability given precedent over a visual style meant to stun, but more likely to cause epilepsy.

Web Standards

Staring At Computer   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

While colors other than black and white are superior in lots of cases (television and movies for starters), for text-based media such as most websites, black and white rule. It isn’t hard to see why. Black on white works. You can see the text clearly without anything else distracting your field of vision.

As the majority of the Web has adopted this sensible stance, when a web user hits a site which has taken the opposing stance, it’s very noticeable. The eyes take some time to adjust to the light writing and dark background, while the brain struggles to comprehend why anyone would do such a thing.

Perhaps if every site employed a dark background, things wouldn’t be so bad, but since light backgrounds are the standard the odd exception looks terrible.

Must Try Harder

Try Harder   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

So, the majority of website with dark backgrounds completely suck. But they don’t necessarily have to suck as much as they currently do. Those who are responsible for designing, building, and maintaining websites with dark backgrounds could and should try harder.

Web Designer Depot has some good examples of sites with dark backgrounds that are at least trying to make things better. They still suck, obviously, but by adjusting simple elements such as text size and font, paragraph length, and the contrast between the shade of light text and shade of dark background, these sites have kept the suckage to a minimum.

In other words, the amount that websites with dark backgrounds suck exists on a sliding scale. And a little bit more time and effort (and adapting the design sensibilities to the dark background look) results in more-tolerable examples. Try harder and perhaps we won’t reject your design so readily.

Conclusions

This Sucks Two   Why Websites With Dark Backgrounds Completely Suck [Opinion]

Which do you prefer? Dark text on a light background, as is the norm, or light text on a dark background, as is the strange? Feel free to pick apart my argument for why websites with dark backgrounds completely suck. Or if you’d rather agree with everything I said in order to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside then that’s fine too.

Image Credits: Tom F, Chris Gilmore, purplejavatroll

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

84 Comments -

Southchick_ga

If I see white (or any other color) text on a dark background, I have to squint.¬† And that’s not good because I have perfect vision.

Dave Parrack

Exactly. It doesn’t matter how good your eyesight is when this happens.

BG Matthews

You must not have “perfect” vision if you have to squint for any reason.

Wally

I cant stand a small intense rectangle of white when reading on my DROID. In fact im reading this on feedly dark. Because….. Wait you aren’t using oneof those huge things you have to balance on your lap? Or need to have a table to use… Next you will be telling me the screen is separated from the computer.

Dave Parrack

Just because smartphones are taking over the world doesn’t mean laptops and desktops have ceased to be relevant. I couldn’t do my job without one.

Anonymous

This is so true. It takes time when you jump from a white screen to completely black. 

Dave Parrack

¬†Your brain has to adapt, and it’s not adept at doing so.

BG Matthews

YOUR brain has to adapt. Please do not try to speak for the rest of us with real brains. Thank You.

Anonymous

Other than repeating “it clearly sucks”, the only argument I can find in this post is this: “You can see the text clearly without anything else distracting your field of vision.”

Sorry, but distractions in your field of vision are not related to the background color, but to the composition of screen elements. If anything, black is the ultimate, non-distracting background, because is “not there”. Black is the absence of color, of anything. White is an amalgam of every color, all canceling each other into nothingness. Black is silence, while White is static background noise (“white noise”).

I have used themes and scripts to change the color of my google tools (Gmail, Reader, etc) to white on black background, and I have no issue with that. In fact, after long reading sessions on my “inverse” environment, my eyes are usually less tired than when reading regular black-on-white text.

Dave Parrack

I made the point in the article that if the whole Web was light text on dark backgrounds then things would be fine. It’s the jump from what we’re used to to what we aren’t used to that’s the problem.

BG Matthews

The “problem” seems to be your lack of ability to “adapt” (as well as other problems you appear to possess).

Scutterman

A lot of forums use light text, dark background. The reason? It’s easier to read over long periods. Just because something is the norm, doesn’t mean something else isn’t valid.

But while we’re on the topic, what really sucks is that MUO uses several CDNs, from what I can tell, which makes loading the site a real challenge when my internet connection is playing up.

Dave Parrack

I’m sorry to hear you have trouble loading MUO sometimes. It’s worth persisting with though :)

Scutterman

Sometimes I begin to think it maybe isn’t. There is a couple of simple solutions though. Change to using a single CDN, fix the bug with the next / previous buttons, and look at optimising the site.

James Bruce

MakeUseOf content comes from a single CDN. Ad networks, jQuery, and login systems all come from their own respective source, either for speed concerns or security. 

Scutterman

Either way, the site is way too slow to load. On a pretty decent connection at work it took almost 30s to load. If people supplying you with ads are causing it, they need to improve their service, and if it is resources you’re using from source, move them to your own cdn if the license allows.

Sorry if this comes across as demanding etc. but the slow load times and glitches are honestly making me consider not reading MUO any more, and that would be a shame because MUO provide such good content.

Aibek

Hey Scutterman,

Just wanted to let you know that we are no reviewing all of the ad networks we work with and removing the slower ones.
That should result in faster page loads on user’s side.

Aibek

Scutterman

¬†@makeuseof:disqus Thanks for letting me know. I’ve been away from the internet for a week or so (RSI) so hopefully I’ll start to notice the improvement

el tio ska

Interesting, but why the rant? I don’t come across such a high usage of dark-background sites myself. Also I use Redability or Evernote Clearly on most sites, as well as Stylebot to adjust the CSS for sites I visit often.

While most of the time I use one of the light options in Readability/Clearly, sometimes I do find the dark theme useful (especially to adjust for contrast with the surrounding around-the-room environment). I also jack up the fonts to something like 25px, so I never have to squint!

Dave Parrack

Thanks for the tips, el tio ska. I rant because it annoys me. Nothing more, nothing less.

Justin Pot

I also use Evernote Clearly. So I can read on a dark background with white text.

BG Matthews

Please continue to annoy me so I may continue to call you on your “annoyances”. Thank You.

Luke

I’m not sure there was much of an argument apart from the constant repetition of “this sucks” and a quick everybody else does it.

rshewmaker

I would have to say http://popurls.com has always been a favorite of mine with its default black background.

Dave Parrack

Popurls is a great site… but it would look better with a light background.

BG Matthews

Your consistent use of definitives (“would”) as opposed to “may” or “might” make you look like a fool and you may just not have the final word on matters as you would like your ego to think your readers may not be smart enough to see right through.

qox

A lot of bs in there .. “We’re used to it”, “it sucks”.
Well, I use light on dark for my desktop and scripts for major website .. reddit, google reader ..
While it made sense to use black on white for books (ink !) it’s different on screen. Not talking about energy waste.. I just find it blinding and tiring for the eyes, and forget about night surfing without reducing intensity.
So basically, your article says, everybody uses dark on light so the ones Im not used to suck.
A bit weak..

Dave Parrack

My statements aren’t BS, they’re just clearly not as strong as you’d hoped.

It’s not that it made sense for books, it’s that because of books it’s ingrained in out collective consciousness that dark on light is the natural form.

PsychEroc

Although I agree; you make a poor argument.  The only discernible point you make is that almost everything else is black on white, thus white on black sucks.  I was hoping for some other support, maybe even science. 

Dave Parrack

Unfortunately I’m not a scientist. I approach things from the standpoint of an ordinary user, and for them (myself included) it’s the fact it isn’t the norm that makes it suck.

Scutterman

Being non-technical is no excuse for making such a weak argument. I know this is an opinion piece, but usually the articles give some valid reason to consider the opinion being given.

BG Matthews

I for one, am glad you admitted to being “ordinary” so please do not try to speak for the rest of us who may be “extraordinary”.

Greg

I will admit, reading text on a site like this is easier to read than white text on a black website, but I can still see both just fine. I happen to like dark websites, they’re cooler, and if it’s appropriate , then do it.

Dave Parrack

When is a dark background appropriate for a website, Greg? I agree that some can have a visual appeal, at least until you start reading. All photo-blogs can have dark backgrounds if they want to.

Ian Hecht

Interesting thoughts. I read a few years ago that the biggest contrast that the human eye can perceive is yellow text on a black background. So all our websites should look like the text scroll from the opening of the Star Wars movies…

Dave Parrack

¬†That’s intriguing. I’d hate to see the Web filled with sites using that color scheme though. Apart from sites about Star Wars, naturally.

BG Matthews

“Hate” is a pretty strong word. I continue to dislike websites with white and grey backgrounds just so their plethora of ads and pop-ups can disturb our eyes.

Matt

Great article! I see green on black occasionally with sites that are trying to give you the “old school hacker” feel. I used computers back then and that “look” is nothing I want to be reminded of. Here’s how to deal with these sites. Bookmark this line, then select this bookmark when you are on one of those sites. It will fix the colors for you. Of course you can choose a different background color if you like. If this code doesn’t come through for some reason, Google can find it for you.

javascript:(function(){var%20newSS,%20styles=’*%20{%20background:%20white%20!%20important;%20color:%20black%20!important%20}%20:link,%20:link%20*%20{%20color:%20#0000EE%20!important%20}%20:visited,%20:visited%20*%20{%20color:%20#551A8B%20!important%20}';%20if(document.createStyleSheet)%20{%20document.createStyleSheet(“javascript:'”+styles+”‘”);%20}%20else%20{%20newSS=document.createElement(‘link’);%20newSS.rel=’stylesheet';%20newSS.href=’data:text/css,’+escape(styles);%20document.getElementsByTagName(“head”)[0].appendChild(newSS);%20}%20})();

Jeff

Reading black on white is like staring into a  bright light. 
More commonly known as computer
eyestrain. 
People have not discovered that its better to read into a black light with white
letters yet.¬† Majority don’t mean its the best way.¬† I can name many
things humans do backwards.  By the way, your sample pictures of white on
black is blurry just to persuade your point.

Free Zombie Online Games

dark web site can be cool

BG Matthews

How do you click “Like” on this site?

Count Stex

I don’t think you can generalise so much. Most light on dark and dark on light can work so long as it is well designed. What it may be is that people without good design skills try to hide it by making things different to the norm, and hence a larger proportion of light on dark sites look bad compared to dark on light. But good design is subtler than that.
For instance anyone creating a photography site is going to go for a dark background as it is a long established fact that you can appreciate the content of a photo far better when there is not a distracting light screen around what you are looking at.
Personally, when I have a site with a long article for reading on I do one of too things. I either load it via Readability using my own preference of reading colours which tends to be off-white on a dark grey background or I send it to my Kindle.
I think perhaps we jumped to white sites with black text because it was comfortable to read on older displays, but with the every increasing contrast ratios available on a modern screen, the whites have become so white as to be almost painful in large use. Hence sites like MUO having a textured background to take the edge off that whiteness. 

Herpes

For me, spending too much time using Linux shell and developing windows console application made light text on a dark background kinda normal.
I even love the themes “gedit” has, especially oblivion, not to mention the themes I found in mig‚Äôs repository.
But as far as websites are concerned, white text on dark background is just bad practice ( bad taste is more like it ).
If nobody’s paying me to look at these colors, I really doubt that I’ll like any of them.

Sorry for any grammar/writing mistakes ( English isn’t my first language )
and sorry for the username ( I created this account to troll meme sites, but I felt like sharing :P )

cheers

Bben46

Bright white backgrounds are too glaring and distracting. Solid black backgrounds with blinding white are too dark with too much contrast. My preference is a dark grey background, with off white characters and muted highlights.

Susi Schuele

Dave, I have to agree.  I do think that some white on black sites can be visually attractive for fashion or photography sites because it makes their work pop, but in general, I concur with you. One other thing to note is that some people who are somewhat visually impaired by diabetes or other medical reasons are literally not able to see AT ALL when there is a dark background. I know this because I have a client with that issue. Great post.

Dave Parrack

Thanks for the comment, Susi. I didn’t even consider people with visual impairments, but that’s another reason to add to the list. :)

James Bruce

No it’s not. Why do you think accessibility options usually include an *inverted colors* (or high contrast) option to make text white on black?

Dave Parrack

Wouldn’t it be better not to make people with visual impairments have to use accessibility options?

James Bruce

I don’t think you understand. Regular black text on white is difficult for many people with visual impairment to read, hence why operating systems include an option to automatically convert everything to a high-contrast white text on black display.¬†

My point is, there are both kinds of visual impairment so using that an excuse is wrong; as are there both kinds preferences to design and readability. What you think may be more readable is not neccessarily true for all. 

Dave Parrack

Thanks for your insights, James. Thankfully I haven’t yet had to use accessibility options.

James Bruce

You broke the comment threading! 

Scutterman

 There are many, many disabilities, and some will mean that reading black on white is impossible. That argument goes both ways.

Dave Parrack

They don’t look blurry to me. And I certainly didn’t make them that way intentionally.

Dave Parrack

Bright, pure white would obviously be bad. It would hurt your eyes. You agreed with me that dark backgrounds suit things like photography sites and also that a lot of it comes down to bad design.

Anon.

White text on dark gray is fine. As long as the contrast isn’t too much, this should work fine.

Dave Parrack

I don’t mind dark backgrounds if they’re well-designed. And dark gray with off-white text would count as that.

Vic

I would just like to let you know that this pointless, rambling article which said practically nothing and proved practically nothing, which you wrote, has convinced me to abandon this website altogether. I will be removing it from my reader after I submit this comment, and I will not regret it. Absolute mindless garbage, which you should be ashamed of.

Dave Parrack

I’m sorry to hear you feel that way, Vic. You could always just avoid my articles if they’re not your cup of tea. But there are 30 other people working for MakeUseOf, some of whom will be producing content you’ll appreciate.

James Bruce

Nonsense. Just as ridiculous as saying using a screen in a dark room is damaging to the eyes. The science just isnt there. 

It’s entirely a matter of personal preference. Just as I can sit there reading my iPad in the dark with no adverse effects on my vision, I also *prefer* the old backlit green on black for reading that my Palm Pilot had.¬†

I’d also tend to agree with everyone else here that says you didn’t actually make a ¬†single convincing argument. I would have loved to read that “it takes the human eyes twice longer to read black text on white than white on black” – but I didn’t. For obvious reasons (that it’s BS).¬†

I think it should plainly obvious that the only reason humans are so accustomed to black text on a white (page) is for economic reasons Рless ink. 

Dave Parrack

Thanks for your input as always, James.

AnŇĺe Gros

It’s cool and hip if you can be trendy and stand out a bit (black backgrounds) but when it comes to the effect the reasons behind the thing that is more effective, suddenly don’t matter any more. Try looking at white on black when you’re really tired (after working for let’s say 24 hours) and you’ll see the argument against black on white is quite bulletproof.

You usually notice the little but important things in extreme situations.

Saying that people use black on white because of economic reasons may be true when it comes to “printing” something, but it has got nothing to do with reading-experience (hence the altamira black on “white” (i think it’s drawn on limestone) paintings that were drawn in a “darker” setting but, i strongly believe, with no real economic reasons for the use of darker colors on a light background but a plain and simple reason that white on black just doesn’t do the trick in dim-lit environments).

The economic reason – to me – does not hold the water (but ears do seem to like it)

AnŇĺe Gros

Oh and yeah – websites with (very/mostly/a lot of) dark background completely suck in my oppinion too.

They tend to be like those beautiful and well-dressed girls I would never want to date but would certainly not mind to…..know a bit better (but over a really short period of time). You know how they are when you see them walking around – they always gaze in a far direction in a 25 degree upward angle thinking that by doing that they’re showing you an image of success, exclusivity and the fact of being so much better then anyone else.

The resemblance is undoubtable and should be plainly obvious….

Moises Blasi

My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on a number of websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard excellent things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can import all my wordpress content into it? Any kind of help would be really appreciated!

blackvoid

you shood try nightshift userstoe with firefox. it is light gray text on dark grey background. it forces all websites to this format. it is much less eyestrain.

actually, black text on glaring white background sucks.
it causes eyestrain. it consumes a lot more energy too.

actually, it should depend on your envireonment. if you are sitting in an office with large windows and the sun is out, it is better to use white background. at evenings n a dark office it is better to use lack or dark background.

Joao

Yeah, black background and white text sucks.. specially at night in a dark room, when your eyes are bleeding already… not. Get a grip dude.

I think I had enough of this garbage, think I will unsubscribe. It used to be cool checking the mail to see new stuff on makeuseof, but havent seen anything remotely useful in months.

Now its a place for stupid personal ramblings about “white on black instead of black on white”.

I think its time you stop milking the cow dry and actually feed her with some greener grass.

Dave Parrack

You’re entitled to your opinion, as am I. And this is just an opinion. We have a range of writers and a range of content here on MakeUseOf. If you don’t like a particular style then just avoid reading it. It would be foolish to unsubscribe though.

Justin Pot

This sums it up better than I can:

“I’ve chosen a black background for most of my text because it’s easier on the eyes than staring at a white screen. Think about it: your monitor is not a piece of paper, no matter how hard you try to make it one. Staring at a white background while you read is like staring at a light bulb (don’t believe me? Try turning off the lights next time you use a word processor). Would you stare at a light bulb for hours at a time? Not if you want to keep your vision.”

http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=faq

Disagree with Maddox at your own peril.

Gabriel

Posted on Your are not worthless. You mean the world to snooeme. You just need to find out who. And don’t ever try to take your life ever you are loved by more people than you think.

Thompson

I actually find that very bright backgrounds tire my eyes pretty quickly and definitely don’t work well with embedded videos, because all that whiteness is distracting me. I am not saying websites should use black backgrounds, but something in between, because neither extreme is very good.

Gerald Kieffer

Since my Atari-ST days I would tweak the desktop menus & background to be BLACK with Wihte, Light green, Light yellow, Light blue or CYAN reading text, menus, etc.
I even had my WINDOWS 95, 98, XP, Vista with BLACK BACKGROUND with light text, menus, etc…
FOR me it’s way easier to read without using GLASSES to see what should not be BLURRING. When you have DARK on WHITE background you often have lots of BLUR with DOUBLE DARK LINES OF TEXT…
With WHITE [or other light colors ] on BLACK BACKGROUND the BLUR effect dosen’t happen as much.
I even have my old menu lister = LIST.COM [yes it is a WINDOWS OLD TIME MENU LISTER PROGRAM from the early 1990’s to around 2005] and I have that set up to MENU LIST = LIGHT CYAN BLUE file list with BLACK BACKGROUND
HIGHLIGHT A FILE – BLACK background with YELLOW FILE PRINT
Bottom menu commands list LIGHT PURPLE on BLACK BACKGROUND…
Top info stuff = Light GREEN on BLACK Background. But nowadays I only get to use it when I’m using DOSBOX running in a LINUX machine.

AND With my LINUX 10.10 I have the background [desktop] 2 shades of dark purple & dark blue with WHITE icons.

The only time i have major reading problems with that is when you have a extreme dark background with extreme dark print as some websites love to do it.

[It’s the same effect going the other way as well… Extreme light print on a all white background]

Dave Parrack

If it works for you then that’s fine. Perhaps everybody’s eyes are different, some finding light on dark better and some finding dark on light better. I appreciate your comment regardless.

dave

The BS in this article is even more hillarious when you consider Adobe has just made Photoshop CS6 white on black. Erm why do you think that is hey?

Dave Parrack

It’s not BS, it’s just my opinion. I tend to think opinions cannot be wrong. Perhaps misguided and definitely arguable, but not wrong.

I love Black

this current page is too white for my eyes….and i hate bright websites…. i dont have any sight problems… white is just too flashy.. dark background absorbs light all around and relaxes your eye muscles..whereas white color deflects any light around…. well am making a website with dark background.. will send you a link after its done.. i hope when your eyes pain by looking at your own website do visit my website.. :D …. dont forget “GO Black” thats the motto of my site

Dave Parrack

I guess people are different. I don’t like dark backgrounds, you do. We’ll agree to differ :)

TenaciousD

I do agree with your thoughts, although my site has white text on a grey/dark grey background which I think is still fine.(http://freegameslist.weebly.com/)

I still like variety though. Its good to see websites with different color schemes as long as it feels right. Sometimes you need to stand out from the millions of plain vanilla websites out there.

Cal

How disappointing, now we’re “hate mongering” display preferences. All I can say is that the reason Light text on Dark background sucks is the same reason your spouse is so ugly, it’s a matter of OPINION!! There is no right or wrong answer.
I’ve been using computers for over 20 years (I do CAD work) and I (like most people who sit at their computer 8+ hours a day) prefer Light text on Dark background because of less eye strain. I don’t mind the occasional dark text on light background for short periods, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to look at it ALL DAY!
What’s next? Are you gonna revert to the days of bashing Left handed people??

TenaciousD

Nice one!

Yrelo

Would you like the design of this site mybrut.ru , and then the white background unpleasant eyes = (

BG Matthews

You must be too young, ignorant, or otherwise (self-admittedly) opinionated to know some history of web page black background you failed to mention in your slanted attempt at “dark-backgrounds-completely-suck” piece of typed blather. Not only do we (some of us) subscribe to the unwritten rule of anti-establishment, but many other valid reasons exist. Instead of me spelling it all out for you please try http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/designing/3.php for starters. And furthermore you coward, since you have provided a vehicle for a challenge, please allow me to quote Cornelia Otis Skinner (1899 ‚Äď 1979) “My dear young sir. The choice of weapons is mine. We shall fight with orthography. You are already dead!”

Dave Parrack

I don’t think I’m ignorant, everyone has opinions, and I’m definitely not young. The article is slanted because it’s an opinion piece. It would be pretty dull if I’d sat on the fence.

Aaron Couch

Dave,

This is an interesting take on websites. I’ve changed my tech blog and, I feel, improved it from what it used to be.

What’s your opinion of what it looks like? I’m guessing you won’t like it! Haha

http://the-couch-lounge.blogspot.com/

Dave Parrack

I do like it, you’ve done a great job. I’m not a particular fan of light text on dark backgrounds but each to their own. I would personally make the background underneath the text just a solid color as I think the patterned background interferes with the text a little too much. :)

Dazzler

I agree I hate black background websites, but only when the text is pure white and not softened towards grey which makes them easier to read.

For me the main issue is, after looking at a black site, is getting dazzled when going back to a white site, it can feel very uncomfotable. It is like being in the dark for quite some time, then someone turns on a torch straight into your eyes. As black websites are in the minority that is why they are the despised rather than the white ones. I think white sites would be hated if the vast majority of sites were black.