There’s something about black and white that’s special. It’s timeless. It’s inoffensive. It’s universal. Whether it is fashion, photography or design – black and white will never be a fad. If anything it is a foundation.
There’s an old expression in portrait photography that goes something like: “shoot in colour and you photograph the clothes. Shoot in black and white, and you photograph the soul.”
Black and white is raw. It breaks the visuals down to simple light and shadow. All distractions are eliminated.
Colour is infinite. It provides infinite possibilities and infinite interpretations. Although this sounds great on paper, what infinity provides is a whole load of distraction. Sometimes there is just too much choice and too much to look at. There can be so much information that we don’t even take any of it in. It’s sensory and information overload.
HOW CAN YOU USE BLACK AND WHITE TO TELL YOUR STORY?
Working exclusively in black and white requires you to think about your storytelling in a whole new way because you’re choosing to limit yourself. You have two shades to work with and nothing else. While this might sound like a difficult task – in actuality, it makes the process a whole lot easier.
It all goes back to what we said about choice. When you have everything at hand to be used, it’s difficult to know what to do with it. For creatives it can cause option paralysis.
By stripping it all away to the sheer basics, you’re forced to work in a space that relies on the balance of light, shadow, shapes and emotions. This can make the design considerations significantly more focused and justifiable. Instead of questioning whether something looks right – you’ll know because it will feel right.
As a designer, we’re sure you’re well aware of using white space. White space is what focuses the viewer. It’s not empty space; it’s a mechanism to draw the eye to the information.
BLACK AND WHITE WORKS THE SAME WAY
Colours work in frequencies. Some are higher frequency than others and often seem brighter. In photography, lighting is used to separate subjects from the background when the colour tones are too similar – the exact lighting that works in lightness and darkness.
The opportunities grow exponentially when you bring your primary brand colour into the mix as an accent colour. It’s true what they say that black goes with everything. The same goes for white.
Any other colour will come between black and white in terms of tonality. While black and white provides absolute contrast, it also helps to accentuate other tones when used carefully and sparingly.
Like we said before, this works in much the same way as utilising white space. But you don’t just have white space; you have white and black space.
USE THE RAW INGREDIENTS
In photography, you’re always taught to use as little light as possible. Use what light is available. If it’s not working, add a light. If that doesn’t work then add another light. Perhaps this process should be adopted in the world of design too. Start with the basic raw ingredients. Begin the process in black and white and introduce colour if you can’t convey your message in
There’s a concept in business psychology that black and white is seen as less approachable and suggests a high level of authority. It’s bold to work in black and white, both literally and figuratively. It adds a real level of poise and sophistication.
Just with all design, context is king. We don’t design to make something look pretty – as much as we like to think so. We design to present a message in the most effective way possible. Beauty might be a by-product of this but at the end of the day; design exists is to perform a function.
Always think about your message, your audience and the given format. Don’t be afraid to work in black and white. It takes a lot of confidence in your messaging to use such minimalism and subtlety.
If it feels right then it probably is right.