The story of F.lux

and the origin of blue light reduction softwares

F.lux is the most popular blue light reduction software in the world. I hope Iris will someday beat it, but at the moment f.lux has more than 15 million users while Iris has only 1 million.

The other thing about F.lux is that it was the first blue light reduction software in the world. As part of my research I have a plan to compare all blue light reduction products and I think f.lux deserves to be first.

I will start with the story of how f.lux was created and how it came out to be so popular.

F.lux was founded almost by accident. In 2008 Michael and Lorna Herf had recently left their jobs working on Google’s photo management tool Picasa, and were living in Santa Monica. Lorna is a painter and used the upstairs loft in their apartment for her studio, where she would often work through the night.

And it was in this period of ran into problem. Even with lamps and lightbulbs, the lack of sunlight obfuscated the hues of her paints, messing up the outcome of her work.

All the colors came out completely wrong, and this thing she thought to be, say, orange would be bright pink. With her husband Michael help, Lorna rigged the studio with bright light bulbs that simulated daylight by emitting an excess of blue wavelengths. It helped her paint with accuracy and alertness through the night.

One night after she came down from the brightly lit daylight room downstairs to their living room, which is dim Lorna noticed that all the computers have also the wrong color and look like the daylight room. This is when they decided to make a tool to try and fix that.

That tool was a rudimentary command line app where you would request a color filter, and get it immediately. It started as an experiment more than anything, and Herf says he and Lorna found that they felt more relaxed with the orange screen filters turned on at night. They started researching the topic in earnest, partly inspired by Lorna’s memory of a science class she once took.

She remembered from a biology class that birds migrate according to season, and a lot of it is about blue light. So when Herf posted it to his website he thought that this things can be connected.

Soon after rolling out the first iteration of f.lux, Herf wrote new code to make it respond automatically to the user’s local sunrise and sunset. These days, f.lux users can tailor it more specifically to their unique schedules.

F.lux is, at first blush, a relatively simple program. In its current incarnation, the app synchronizes itself with the rising and setting of the sun (based on your current location), and as day turns to night, slowly adjusts the colours on your screen to be easier on your eyes (that’s the theory, anyhow).

Developing f.lux, it turned out, was more complex than either Lorna or Michael initially thought. And in the seven years since they started working on the app full time, Michael and Lorna have realized what they’re really on is a mission to change the way that we sleep.

“Everyone thinks this problem is easy until they spend a year or two on it, and then they think it’s the hardest problem they’ve ever worked on”

Initially, Lorna and Michael didn’t completely understand what it was their program did. They knew that making the colour adjustments made their displays easier to read and use later into the night, and that other people might appreciate this too.

“We really thought six months after that, that we were done. We had done this app that was pretty baked. And we didn’t really think it was that hard,” Michael recalled. “Now we have this joke that, everyone thinks this problem is easy until they spend a year or two on it, and then they think it’s the hardest problem they’ve ever worked on.”

A lot of people—particularly those that work late into the night—swear by this app, largely because of research that suggests exposure to light from screens before bed can affect your quality of sleep. You can frequently find it on best-of lists of popular utilities and must-have apps. Michael tells that college students are one of f.lux’s core demographics.

If anything, these apps serve to validate f.lux’s initial theory—that there’s something to all of this bright, blue light that’s constantly bombarding our eyes well into the night, and we should probably be doing something about it.