Have you ever noticed that many websites (including this one, at the time of writing) have a white background? Have you ever wondered why this is, or if this is even the best solution? Join Wrasse Industries for this interesting discussion, and don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to discuss a website design for your business or organisation. We’re here to assist.
White Background Links
Should Websites Have a White Background.. The Easy Answer
The easy and short answer to this question is “yes”. Websites should have a white background. Or at least, a white background option should be considered in the design process. Why? A white background is very practical for web design. It allows good contrast, legibility and the emphatic presentation of brand elements. However, in design, as in life, there are shades of grey. Using white for website backgrounds is certainly practical, but is it always the best option, and more importantly, does it allow the unique expression of a brand in an industry crowded by white-background websites?
Why Are Walls White?
Have you ever wondered why walls are white? They’re not always white, but most of the time, they are either white or a similar tone. Walls could be any colour, so why are they (nearly-always) white? Unpacking this question is really important to get to the bottom of white website backgrounds as well.
Firstly, walls weren’t always white. If you go back into the 50’s and 60’s, walls were often covered in wallpaper in a variety of decorative patterns and a multitude of colours.
Modern interior design is different. Walls are much less decorative now, and usually function as a neutral backdrop for artwork or other interior features to express themselves against. Although this convention isn’t always true, it is reasonable to assert that times have changed and the role of wall designs in interior design have changed.
Considering the evolution of walls in interior design is useful to unpacking understandings of white backgrounds in website design.
A decorative interior may be wonderful (or not) but one thing is certain – it is not versatile. With tones, textures and patterns ‘locked into’ the design of the room, all features of the room must relate to the walls. Effectively, the inclusion of any additional design elements needs to be weighed against their ability to work harmoniously with the established decorative background. In other words, you can’t just get a new couch – you need to get a new couch that will work with your sepia-peacock wallpaper.
This is important in a climate where the commercial imperative is to change the look and feel of interiors frequently, or seasonally at least. Along with other factors such as mass-production, the devolution of hand-crafted elements, and the reduction in options for colour choices, the role of the wall as an interior background has changed from defining the room to passive spectator.
The relationship between interior design and website design is evident – a cultural evolution of the elements that make up the time. We think everything we do is ‘modern’, but in 50 years it will be looked back on ‘politely’ just as we look back on 1950’s wallpaper nowadays.
In addition to this relationship, the evolution of the neutral online background brings some additional factors to bear, unique to the world of technology:
Unlike web design in the 90’s, modern websites need to cater for presentation on a variety of different-sized device screens: mobile phones, tablets & computer screens. The solution, responsive web design, introduces a variety of caveats into the design process, especially in simplification & optimisation. A ‘less is more’ ethos is definitive of responsive design, since the fewer elements are involved the easier they are to handle in a dynamic environment. This has been a factor in the reduction of visual complexity in websites.
Brand no longer stops at web design, but extends into a range of integrated marketing channels: social media. Here, content has priority, overlaid in grid-based presentations over white, or neutral backgrounds. Given the uptake, I believe there may be an imperative to align and maintain consistency with this format – for many people, this is the internet, and replicating these norms is congruent with existing credibly in this space.
WordPress is a popular CMS and powers 39.5% of all websites (searchenginejournal.com) in 2021. The expression of a WordPress website is only limited by the imagination, since it can be customised into any design imaginable. However, its origins are in blogging, and these origins in combination with its popularity have shaped the way the internet appears. Blogging is primarily about text and presenting text legibly requires good contrast. Just like books, the solution is a white background with black letters, which has evolved to become the brand norm for many businesses for the same reasons.
White Vs Black Backgrounds
White and black share a unique position in that neither of them are colours. We call them colours because it’s easy, but actually they’re different from the other ‘true’ colours like red, pink, green, blue, etc. White and black don’t have any colour information. White is just white, and black is just black. You can read more about this at britannica.com if you’re interested. This raises the question – why is everything white – why aren’t website backgrounds black, instead of white? An important factor is legibility:
In digital displays, using white as a background with black text has a different effect than the opposite (black background with white text). According to rxoptical.com, white text on a dark background forces the eye to work harder, making it more difficult to read. This is especially true when there are large amounts of text to consume. Also, black text pops out on a white background, whereas when white text is used on a black background, the darker background pushes into the text and visually reduces its presence on the page.
This ability to ‘pop’ text also applies to images, and this is arguably a major reason why white has become the norm for social media and website platforms. As a background, white doesn’t add any colour information to images, whereas a black background creates relationships with images. In a world where images are the main feature, having a lighter background better enables their visual appreciation.
Unique Expressions with White Backgrounds
White (or similar) backgrounds are popular in interior design and website design. This popularity is due to a number of reasons, including interior design trends, & web design & marketing trends, legibility, practicality, and the uptake of social media channels that popularise this approach. However, as you may be aware, it’s not always a great idea to do the same thing as everyone else. Then you can’t stand out! With all of the benefits of white, can it be used to create a sufficiently individual presence in an all-white website background world?
In processes relating to website design, brand and marketing, compromises need to be constantly made in order to craft a viable product. Everything that is produced is the best-optimised version of what can be done with a particular budget, timeframe and resources. It’s not a big leap to go for a non-white background but like all other decisions, it needs to be made in the context of the bigger picture.
There is currently a trend towards white backgrounds in web design for a number of reasons. Some trends change and some endure.. it remains to be seen whether the practical reasons for white backgrounds, such as legibility considerations, will make it a long-term style. Sometimes, the need to differentiate can be stronger than practical necessities, and in this time of evolution, stylistic signatures are all-important.