Released Modus themes 0.12.0

I just published version 0.12.0 of the Modus themes. These are my highly-accessible themes for GNU Emacs. They conform with the WCAG AAA standard for colour contrast accessibility (a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 between the foreground and background values). You can find the packages on GNU ELPA, MELPA, MELPA Stable:

  • modus-operandi-theme (light)
  • modus-vivendi-theme (dark)

An HTML version of the project’s README is also available on my website: https://protesilaos.com/modus-themes

Below are the release notes.


Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi version 0.12.0

By Protesilaos Stavrou info@protesilaos.com on 2020-08-26

This entry documents the set of changes since version 0.11.0 (2020-07-31). There have been around 70 commits in the meatime, though the sheer number may obfuscate the fact that a lot of work has gone into this release.

As always, every change described here conforms with the accessibility objective of the themes for a minimum 7:1 contrast ratio between background and foreground values in their given combinations (conformance with the WCAG AAA standard).

New customisation options

1 Completion Frameworks

The star of the show has to be the new option that refashions the aesthetics of completion UIs: Helm, Icomplete, Ido, Ivy, Sallet, Selectrum. The modus-operandi-theme-completions and modus-vivendi-theme-completions accept the following symbols:

  • nil (default)
  • moderate
  • opinionated

Nil means that the overall presentation of the UI follows the patterns established by its own source code. For example, Ivy uses four distinct background and foreground combinations of accented colours to highlight the matching groups. A grey background is added to denote the implicit match between those groups. So we choose to respect this metaphor, while applying colours that conform with the accessibility goal of our project. Whereas Icomplete or Ido use subtle styles to present their results. Again, we remain faithful to their presentation.

With moderate, we apply nuanced background and foreground combinations of accented colour values. This will slightly tone down Helm, Ivy, Sallet, Selectrum, while it will slightly adjust the looks of Icomplete and Ido.

Whereas opinionated has a more pronounced effect on the overall aesthetics of the UI. For the likes of Icomplete and Ido which are subtle by default, this option will use intense combinations of background and foreground colours. They are the diametric opposite of the nil value. Whereas Helm, Ivy, Sallet, Selectrum, will use even more subtle colours. Again, they are farther away than their default looks.

These new options supersede the now-deprecated and more limited in scope variables of prior releases:

  • modus-operandi-theme-intense-standard-completions
  • modus-vivendi-theme-intense-standard-completions

Thanks to the following people for their valuable feedback in issue 75: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/75

  • Anders Johansson
  • Manuel Uberti
  • Shreyas Ragavan

2 Prompts

The modus-operandi-theme-prompts and modus-vivendi-theme-prompts’ will change the overall looks of minibuffer and shell prompts (M-x shell as well as M-x eshell). Their possible values are:

  • nil (default)
  • subtle
  • intense

Nil will only use a coloured foreground for the prompts’ text. Simple and effective.

With subtle, the default foreground value is retained but is now complemented by an appropriately tinted background. The effect is more noticeable than the default, though not by much.

While intense applies a coloured background and foreground combination that should clearly stand out from the rest of the context.

Thanks to Manuel Uberti for sharing feedback in issue 74: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/74

3 Fringe visibility

A new pair of symbols supersedes older variables:

  • modus-operandi-theme-visible-fringes ==> modus-operandi-theme-fringes
  • modus-vivendi-theme-visible-fringes ==> modus-vivendi-theme-fringes

While the deprecated options were booleans, the current ones offer a choice between the following:

  • nil (default)
  • subtle
  • intense

Nil means that the fringes have no distinct background of their own. They still exist per the settings of fringe-mode, but can only be discerned by tracking the negative space between the frame’s or window’s edge and the buffer’s effective boundaries.

The subtle value will apply a greyscale background that is fairly close to the default main background (pure white/black). The fringes are now visible.

As its name implies, intense has a more pronounced effect than the other values. It also uses a greyscale background.

Review of already supported faces and colours

1 Magit blame styles

The headers that Magit’s blame interface produces were difficult to tell apart from their context. A set of carefully selected colours now makes sure that they are always distinct. Some subtle background values are used, in addition to other typographic elements.

Thanks to Damien Cassou for reporting this problem and for providing valuable feedback that informed the final design. Refer to issue 71: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/71

2 Paren match colours

The face that highlights the matching delimiter when show-paren-mode (or equivalent) is enabled uses two dedicated colours, whose names are: bg-paren-match and bg-paren-match-intense. Those have been reviewed to make them more obvious in various contexts and to improve their overall consistency.

A report with relative contrast ratios is available on my website: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2020-08-09-modus-themes-paren-match/

I benefited from valuable feedback from Shreyas Ragavan in issue 70: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/70

3 Mu4e faces

Some faces were tweaked to make it easier to distinguish replied, forwarded, and draft messages from other headers. The changes are fairly small in scope, but the effect should be that of an overall improvement.

Thanks to Shreyas Ragavan for noticing these inconsistencies and for their continued participation in addressing them. See issue 69: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/69

4 Notmuch message headings

A couple of inconsistencies with how notmuch would style email addresses and folded messages were addressed. The generic italic face was also tweaked in the process, removing the foreground it would falsely define.

Thanks to Damien Cassou for bringing these to my attention in issue 72: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/72

5 hl-todo

Let the special keywords of hl-todo-mode use an optional slant, just like code comments do. This is to ensure that they feel part of their context.

6 Magit general interface

Several faces were reviewed in the interest of colour harmony and to address potential inconsistencies or exaggerations. The most noticeable change pertains to the log views, as we now use fewer accent values, reducing whatever unnecessary “rainbow effect” may have existed.

7 VC commit logs

The presentation of vc-print-log and vc-print-root-log has been reviewed to reduce the stark contrast between the colours it once used. While the elements remain distinct, the differences between them are more subtle, which is preferable when viewing long lists of similar-looking patterns.

8 Powerline

The active and inactive minibuffers now use appropriate accented backgrounds or foregrounds for some of their elements. This makes them better for their intended function.

Thanks to Shreyas Ragavan and tycho garen for their feedback in issue 73, which was actually about adding support for Spaceline. It uses Powerline as its dependency, so we eventually had to accommodate both of them: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/73

Shreyas also helped by adding a short note in the README which informs users of those two packages on how to tweak things when conducting tests or changing themes. See merge requests 9 and 10:

  • https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/merge_requests/9
  • https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/merge_requests/10

9 Latex sectioning

The themes will no longer affect the height of the Latex sectioning faces. This is because there already exists a variable that scales them accordingly.

Thanks to Anders Johansson for providing insights in issue 77: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/77

10 Transient pop-up menu

Extended support for its new colour-coded faces that follow in the footsteps of the hydra package for visual semantics.

11 Miscellaneous

The following faces were refined:

  • org-formula inherits from fixed-pitch to ensure that it does not break table layouts when the user opts for a mixed-font setup (such as with M-x variable-pitch-mode).

  • bongo-elapsed-track-part uses a more appropriate accented background.

  • symbol-overlay-default-face is less intense than before. This is in response to feedback I received from Manuel Uberti as an aside in issue 75: https://gitlab.com/protesilaos/modus-themes/-/issues/75

  • rectangle-preview uses a slightly accented background, which distinguishes it from the highlighted region. This is to denote a different state where the user is typing in some text.

  • diff-hl-change now uses the more appropriate yellow colour instead of blue. Yellow denotes “mixed changes” and, therefore, stands between “removed” (red) and “added” (green). As it so happens, yellow is a colour that derives by mixing red with green.

New packages

The following are now explicitly supported by the themes:

  • org-table-sticky-header
  • pkgbuild-mode
  • semantic
  • spaceline

More faces or face groups that are defined:

  • git-rebase (magit)
  • doom-modeline-debug-visual
  • file-name-shadow
  • the faces used by Emacs 27’s ‘display-line-numbers-major-tick’ and display-line-numbers-minor-tick
  • table-cell

Final notes

There now exists an HTML version of the README, which will hopefully make things easier for users: https://protesilaos.com/modus-themes/

Other changes are not user-facing. For example, using pcase instead of cond to make relevant expressions more succinct. Or defining a coloured underline in a more straightforward way. No need to document them at length.

While this release introduces customisation options, it feels as though the themes are approaching a stable state. We know what works, we have a comprehensive colour palette that can meet our evolving needs, and we have already achieved broad package/face coverage. All while conforming with the overarching objective of this project for a minimum 7:1 contrast ratio between background and foreground values in any given combination we specify.

I wish to thank everyone who has helped me by testing things and sharing their thoughts. The people already mentioned herein:

  • Anders Johansson (https://gitlab.com/andersjohansson)
  • Damien Cassou (https://gitlab.com/DamienCassou)
  • Manuel Uberti (https://gitlab.com/muberti)
  • Shreyas Ragavan (https://gitlab.com/shrysr)
  • tycho garen (https://gitlab.com/tychoish)