Color Series: Modern White

An exploration of the meaning and connotations of the color white in culture and business.
blank piece of paper

A clean slate, a fresh sheet of paper, a bride in a white gown: white can indicate the start of something new. Culturally, the meanings of the color white can be vast: often, it symbolizes purity and innocence because it is so easily dirtied, like white snow or even white socks. For top brands white evokes purity, truthfulness, as well as being contemporary and refined. Global brands like Nike whose logo is known for its extreme simplicity and minimalism, juxtaposes their signature white swoosh against a black background. This emphasizes their brand message as being a company which focuses on the bare necessities needed to be a great athlete, highlighting only the effort you put in rather than the tools used to gain success.

nike swoosh

However, white has different connotations in different contexts. As the color of peace, we perceive a white dove as tranquil and a white flag as a sign of surrender. Yet, in some Asian countries, white is the color of mourning and death, such as in China or India. The white coats of doctors have an interesting history: physicians began to wear them in the nineteenth century to dissociate their profession from common mysticism and unreliable remedies. As medicine became considered more of a science, doctors adopted lab coats as attire, differentiating themselves from the usual gloomy black robes of hospitals in centuries past, when hospitals had a much higher death rate. In the nineteenth century, physicians donned their white coats to indicate hope for recovery, communicating that the hospital was no longer a place of death, but a place of healing.

White today may also be considered the standard of design, indicating modern yet simple spaces or products. For example, Apple has made the use of white space, geometric structure, and simplicity a core aspect of their retail store initiative. As a result of such uses of the color, white has become an inherent part of modern and futuristic design. Psychologically, white may help induce productivity by encouraging clarity and deterring clutter. Neutral and clean, the color inspires creativity and fresh thought.

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