Org’s export dispatcher has a new face for its keys

Update 2020-10-25 10:57 +0300: Added screen shots with the Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi themes.

Update 2020-11-28 15:33 +0300: Update screen shots for modus-themes version 1.0.0.

As of commit 7ebb2d562 in the git repo of Emacs’ Org mode, the export dispatcher uses a new face to highlight its available keys and possible options: org-dispatcher-highlight. It supersedes the general purpose org-warning for this particular interface.

Before and after

This demonstration is on emacs -Q. First without the patch and then with it:

Org dispatcher before

Org dispatcher after

And below are my Modus themes (Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi, version 1.0.0 or higher) with the new face tweaked to match their established metaphors. We apply yellow colouration to convey a sense of urgency, as the dispatcher is a special window that remaps common key bindings by assigning special commands to them:

Modus Operandi Org dispatcher wide

Modus Operandi Org dispatcher narrow

Modus Vivendi Org dispatcher wide

Modus Vivendi Org dispatcher narrow

In the interest of usability

The email to the Org mailing list reveals my rationale:

The export dispatcher’s active keys are highlighted using the org-warning face. That face is applied in various contexts, including the agenda.

Users who have difficulty reading the active keys of the export dispatcher are therefore forced to modify org-warning throughout their setup, even though their problem is present only while viewing the dispatch UI (because highlighted keys are one or a few characters long).

The attached patch is an attempt to address this issue by creating a new face that is specifically designed for the dispatch UI.

For the background+foreground combinations, the selected values conform with the highest accessibility standard for colour contrast (WCAG AAA, else a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1). I limited my options to what M-x list-colors-display provides.

The relevant diff:

 lisp/org-faces.el | 14 ++++++++++++++
 lisp/ox.el        |  2 +-
 2 files changed, 15 insertions(+), 1 deletion(-)

diff --git a/lisp/org-faces.el b/lisp/org-faces.el
index c0556b8bb..94b283ad6 100644
--- a/lisp/org-faces.el
+++ b/lisp/org-faces.el
@@ -45,6 +45,20 @@ The foreground color of this face should be equal to the background
 color of the frame."
   :group 'org-faces)
+(defface org-dispatcher-highlight
+  '((default :weight bold)
+    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
+     :background "gray20" :foreground "gold1")
+    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
+     :background "SlateGray1" :foreground "DarkBlue")
+    (((class color) (min-colors 16) (background dark))
+     :foreground "yellow")
+    (((class color) (min-colors 16) (background light))
+     :foreground "blue")
+    (t :inverse-video t))
+  "Face for highlighted keys in the dispatcher."
+  :group 'org-faces)
 (defface org-level-1 '((t :inherit outline-1))
   "Face used for level 1 headlines."
   :group 'org-faces)
diff --git a/lisp/ox.el b/lisp/ox.el
index 6dd2cd4a0..5ffd66816 100644
--- a/lisp/ox.el
+++ b/lisp/ox.el
@@ -6706,7 +6706,7 @@ back to standard interface."
 	    ;; on the first key, if any.  A nil value means KEY will
 	    ;; only be activated at first level.
 	    (if (or (eq access-key t) (eq access-key first-key))
-		(propertize key 'face 'org-warning)
+		(propertize key 'face 'org-dispatcher-highlight)
 	  (lambda (value)

This commit resolves a conundrum that theme developers could find themselves in:

  • Should I make the keys in the export dispatcher as clear as possible without compromising on their utility?
  • Or should I allow deadlines in the agenda to have a sense of urgency without becoming intrusive and outright unpleasant?

The introduction of the new face removes this constraint altogether by disaggregating the uses of org-warning: dispatcher keys can be drawn in a style that best complements the intended function of their presentation, while agenda buffers and other interfaces can still present warnings, such as pending tasks, in a manner that suits the significations attached to that word.

To retain the old export dispatcher aesthetic, instruct org-dispatcher-highlight to inherit from org-warning (or petition your theme’s developer to consider such a reform). For example:

(set-face-attribute 'org-dispatcher-highlight nil :inherit 'org-warning)

Please note that what matters is the presence of a new face, not the exact colour values assigned to it, as shown by the tweaks I made to it in my Modus themes.

Thanks to the community

I wrote this patch after receiving valuable feedback from user “Anders” on the Modus themes’ issue tracker.

My gratitude extends to Bastien Guerry, the maintainer of Org mode, for accepting my code and for their valuable contributions in general.