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Colour psychology: why winning brands wear white

During our series of colour psychology blogs, we’ve covered many topics relating to colour and branding. But now we’re in unfamiliar territory – this one is about a colour who’s status as a colour is disputed – for such a pure thing, ‘white’ is no stranger to controversy. Whether it’s a ‘colour’ or not, it’s likely to play a key part in your brand. Let’s explore more on the brand colour white.

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Colour psychology: All White or not?

The debate over white being a colour has been running for some time now and scientists, artists and academics have all had their say. Whether you consider white a colour or not depends on what angle or industry you’re coming from.

In terms of light, white can be created by the primary colours and therefore seen as a colour. In terms of art and printing, the primary colours can’t create it, therefore, in theory, it’s not a colour. Read more in this Colour Matters blog.

Read more: Colour psychology: brown’s branding brilliance

The brand colour white in design

In terms of design, it can’t be ignored. It’s a highly useful colour, being both versatile and a great partner to most other colours.

In the Threerooms studio, white plays an important part in our work. We use it in a considered manner, being deliberately placed rather than just the absence of colour. It also appears in a high proportion of the brands we create in one form or another – especially. It allows one colour to stand out, bold and proud.

It’s no coincidence that logos are issued with black and white versions as well as the full-colour file – sometimes only white works.

Red, white and blue

Some of the biggest brands around use white as a core component. These include Samsung, Facebook and Google who all use white either for their lettering or to sit behind it.

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The most revered brand of all provides the most compelling case. Apple gives all its products room to breathe. It uses white as a core colour in its brand and, as with a break in conversation, it embraces the white rather than looking at it as a space that needs to be filled. In doing so, it allows nothing to distract from the quality of what it does. Its products are always the focus and nothing’s there to distract from this.

Read more: Colour psychology: The colour purple

In branding, the colour white has often been paired with red to great effect. The red provides the boldness which the white stands off cleanly and clearly. This can be seen in brands like Coca-Cola, Vodafone and KFC.

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White brings an elegant simplicity and using this with black has proved a winning formula in the luxury goods industry. Dior, Chanel, Prada and Gucci opt for white on black or black on white for their logos. Chanel’s creative director Karl Lagerfeld once said: “Black-and-white always looks modern, whatever that word means.”

White around the world

In the west, Christianity has aligned white as being the colour of purity and goodness. Important figures in Christianity are often depicted wearing white and it’s been traditional for the Pope to wear white for nearly 500 years.

As we know, it’s the traditional colour for wedding dresses also – but this doesn’t have the history you might think. It only became popular in the UK after Queen Victoria wore white in 1840 for her wedding to Albert. She also requested that guests not wear white, which is still an unwritten rule today. Before this, brides with money wore bright colours to signify their wealth at a time when coloured dyes were costly. Interesting!

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As with most colours, what they mean in the west is reversed in the east. In China white is used as the colour of mourning. This is also the case in Asian countries with large Buddhist communities as the family of the deceased wear white to funerals in the hope their loved one will be reincarnated.

So you now know a little more behind the brand colour white and the connotations of using it as part of your brand. If you want to review how white is used in your brand or introduce more of it, we’re here to help. Get in touch and talk to us about how we can make this work!