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Re: difference between ef-themes and modus-themes for Emacs?

I added the following to the manual of the ef-themes. It is a modified version of my reply to a question posted by Saša Janiška on the mailing list: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/ef-themes/%3C87pme7w10b.fsf%40atmarama.ddns.net%3E.


The main difference between the two projects is that the modus-themes are much more strict with maintaining the highest standard for contrast (I won’t delve into the technicalities, though the manual of the modus-themes does elaborate on the minutiae). Whereas the ef-themes do not have such a commitment: they are legible, but might go a bit below the desired target in certain cases.

For the user who has already narrowed their search to the Modus and Ef themes, the criterion should be the eye test. If any of those items looks good/usable, then that is what matters. A bit of experimentation provides greater insight than tomes on theoretical nuances—no value in overthinking it.

Between the ef-themes and the modus-themes, I provide a broad range of options for users who need varying degrees of legibility. The modus-themes are the ones with the highest contrast.

I have always maintained the view that (i) there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all for accessibility due to innate differences in colour perception between individuals as well as hardware capabilities, and (ii) no theme can handle accessibility on its own, as one needs to consider typography as well as environmental factors.

[ For my preferred typography, check Iosevka Comfy: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/iosevka-comfy-pictures. ]

Technically, the very high contrast of the modus-themes demands that they are not—and can never be—as colourful as the ef-themes. Their colours are less saturated. In terms of presentation, this means that the modus-themes may appear more minimalist (or “clean”) once one gets used to their level of contrast. In general: do not trust initial impressions and give the themes a fair chance (if one is used to low contrast settings, the modus-themes feel hard to get used to, though this is natural as the eye adapts accordingly).

The ef-themes are more colourful, which can make them more/less pleasant to work with, depending on one’s subjectivity. Within the ef-themes, there is considerable diversity, as each of the 20 items has its own character, expressed as a unique colour palette and colour mapping. No two themes are alike. For example, for light themes ef-summer gives the user a completely different vibe than ef-frost, while for dark themes ef-bio and ef-cherie each have their unique charm.

I cannot possibly say which the “best” is. This is a subjective evaluation. For me personally, both projects are technically excellent in terms of conforming with their stated ends. Aesthetically, I like them all, which is why I develop/maintain them. I am not prioritising one over the others.

Note that I am emphasising legibility, though this should not discount the meticulous work that goes into thematic consistency. I do not write about this topic because it does not really matter to the average user. Consistency is not something that should actively be calling for one’s attention, though it is “there” for those who wish to pay attention. In short: I am not picking random colours and implementing them on a whimsy. Theme development is not easy.

Sources

Modus themes

Ef (εὖ) themes