Brayden Haws

May 23, 2023

Why Didn't Jira Have Dark Mode

Right off the bat, we have to talk about the title of this post. Up until I was about to hit publish, it was called “Why Doesn’t Jira Have Dark Mode?”. But as I was doing some last-minute research, I came across an update that they were finally adding a dark theme. Despite them finally doing what seemed obvious, there are still valuable product lessons in why it took so long to add this pretty common feature. With that, let’s get into it…

If you have worked anywhere that uses Jira you have no doubt heard people complain about its lack of a dark mode. Given many tech people’s disposition towards dark mode, it is surprising that one of the most used tools lacks this feature. 

It’s not that Atlassian wasn’t aware of the demand for a dark mode. I found a few forums where they acknowledged it was their most popular feature request. And looking at their public-facing feature tickets, there were over 50 tickets related to adding a dark mode. Some of these requests go back over 10 years.
Additionally, there is a large set of workarounds and plug-ins that allow you to enable dark mode in Jira. Some of these solutions are even available in the official Jira marketplace.
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Seems like everyone besides Atlassian is trying to add dark mode to Jira. And this request isn’t limited to external parties. Below is a dramatic recreation (courtesy of ChatGPT) of what the PM over this area must experience every day at work:

(Scene: Atlassian headquarters, bustling with energy and creativity. The product manager for Jira, Alex, is sitting at his desk when Sarah from Marketing approaches.)

Sarah (Marketing): Hey, Alex! I have this fantastic idea. What if we add a dark mode to Jira? It would be a game-changer.

Alex (Product Manager): Hi, Sarah. You're not the first one to suggest that, it's a popular request. But it's not as straightforward as it seems. There are a few reasons why we haven't added a dark mode yet. One is that implementing a dark mode requires a lot of design and development resources. We'd need to adjust every single UI element for visibility and readability in a darker color scheme. This is not as simple as inverting colors, it requires careful design work. And currently, we're focused on improving the core functionality of Jira to enhance the user experience.

(Later in the day, Steve from Sales joins Alex for lunch.)

Steve (Sales): Alex, I was thinking - a dark mode for Jira would be such a selling point!

Alex (Product Manager): Hi Steve, that's an interesting point. Yes, we have heard this request quite often. However, while a dark mode might look good on a features list, it doesn't necessarily help us meet our main objectives. We're prioritizing improvements that directly enhance productivity and collaboration for teams using Jira. We believe that's where we can deliver the most value for our customers right now.

(Back at his desk, Alex gets a message from Laura in Design.)

Laura (Design): Hey Alex, I've been playing around with some designs for a dark mode in Jira. I think it would look really cool!

Alex (Product Manager): Hi Laura, your designs are always impressive! The dark mode is a great idea, and it's been suggested a few times before. But there's a bigger picture to consider. Implementing dark mode involves more than just the initial design. We'd need to maintain two separate themes for every new feature or design change we introduce in the future, which doubles the work. It's a trade-off, and at the moment we're focusing on new features and performance improvements that will benefit all users, regardless of their display preferences.

(After a long day, Alex has a virtual meeting with a group of stakeholders.)

Stakeholder: Alex, we've heard a lot of chatter about a dark mode for Jira. Can we add that to the roadmap?

Alex (Product Manager): I appreciate the suggestion, and it's definitely been brought up before. While we acknowledge the appeal of a dark mode, we've prioritized other areas of development for now. We want to focus on creating and refining features that will have the most impact on our users' productivity and overall experience with Jira. That's not to say we won't ever consider a dark mode, but it's not on our immediate roadmap.

Day after day after day, some poor PM is being bombarded with requests for dark mode. When they go to sleep at night they are chased by monsters in the form of dark mode requests. And adding to the confusion, the Jira mobile app supports dark mode. With all this signal around dark mode, why haven’t they added it?

I don’t know the actual reason they haven’t added it. But if you are a PM you know there are a lot of possible reasons why. Here are a few that made sense to me:

  • Value vs Effort: While the concept of dark mode might seem easy (simply invert all the colors) it is actually quite difficult to build. You’ll notice when a product doesn’t have a well-designed dark mode. Try out some of the 3rd party options for adding it to Jira and you can get a preview of what a bad dark mode looks like. If you want to build a dark mode the right way it takes a lot of effort. And there isn’t much value relative to the time you put in.
  • Enterprise lock-in: While customers may complain about the lack of dark mode, it isn’t likely that they will churn due to the lack of it. This is especially true with a tool like Jira where employees often don’t have a choice to use it or not. Their employer picks it, pays for it, and tells them to use it. So Jira doesn’t have to worry about customers walking away over this feature.
  • Demand is Already Met: With all the 3rd party options and workarounds that are in place, they may consider the demand met. Or they can at least bank the workarounds to let them push the work down the road. The risk here is that some of these options don’t look great, they may hurt your brand a bit. But there is not enough risk relative to everything else you have going on.

Being a PM is a life of navigating trade-offs. You can't give everyone everything they ask for. You have to be able to say what is most important right now, what can wait until later, and what will never make sense. Without knowing everything they have going on at Jira, it appears that for the last 10 years, there were things more valuable or more important to do. I give a ton of credit to the product managers there. After being slammed with requests for so long, the easy thing to do would be just to add it. It takes a ton of discipline and focus to go against a swarm of voices and stay focused on what actually matters most for the product.

About Brayden Haws

Healthcare guy turned tech wannabe. Doing product stuff at Grow. Building Utah Product Guild⚒️. Constantly tinkering on my 🛻. Occasionally writing poor takes on product strategy and technology.

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