With Huw Humphreys, Wrasse Industries Sunshine Coast
Have you ever noticed that many websites have a white background? Have you ever wondered why this is, or if this is even the best solution? This is a very significant question, and the answer (or at least, my answer!) may surprise you. I used to use a white background for my website, but in recent times, I’ve shifted to a more colourful look and feel. Learn why in this article:
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 makes the design process easy, because anything you place against a white background will work. This is similar to the situation of white walls in houses:
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 helpful 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. In this way, the role of the wall has changed from active participant to passive spectator. 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.
The relationship between evolutions in interior design and website design is fascinating. Perhaps we should bear in mind that our ‘modern’ thinking (white backgrounds) may look very dated when viewed retrospectively in 50 years. Perhaps then, people will look back on it as ‘politely’ as we look back on 1950’s wallpaper nowadays!
The Advantages of a White Background
Using a white background in web design has a number of key advantages. These include:
1. Legibility Considerations
In digital displays, using white as a background with black text is an optimal outcome for legibility (easiness of reading words). Ensuring website text is legible is pretty important. After all, why go to all the trouble of writing all those words if they’re hard to read? This is especially important when there are large amounts of text to consume. What’s interesting is that the reverse scenario (white text on a black background) doesn’t work as well.
White text on a dark background forces the eye to work harder, making it more difficult to read. In this case, the text is swallowed, or overwhelmed, by the the background. Can you see a difference in the text in these images? Which one do you think is easier to read?
2. Ease of Use
A white background is easy to use. Unlike coloured backgrounds, white backgrounds don’t require the application of colour theory to make other design elements work with your background. Unlike patterned backgrounds, you don’t need to battle to make text legible, or for challenging images to stand out. White backgrounds make design more accessible to more people, which is useful when design tasks are managed by non-designers.
3. Responsive Flexibility
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 responsive website. This solution introduces a variety of caveats into the design process, especially in simplification & optimisation. A ‘less is more’ ethos is important in 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.
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 additional design contributions to the room must relate to the decorative elements. Effectively, the inclusion of any additional design elements needs to be weighed against their ability to work harmoniously with the established 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.
In the same way, a white background for your website is a much more versatile solution than a background that uses strong patterns or colours.
The Problematic Popularity of White Backgrounds
Despite the advantages of white backgrounds, perhaps some of the reasons for their popularity are problematic. These considerations are useful to frame an argument about deciding whether or not to use white in your website background:
From a brand / marketing point of view, it’s important to express your Point of Difference; how your business is different from everyone else. For example, our Point of Difference is our customised, integrated and engaged approach. We express this in our brand via an eclectic combination of colours and styles, with the goal of creating content for our website that is engaging, customised, and enjoying visual relationships. If everyone is using a white background, we think it is worth stopping and wondering if a different approach may help you to better communicate your brand. Naturally, this needs to be weighed against benefits of using a white background!
2. Social Media
Everyone is using social media, and in many ways the aesthetic of popular social media channels like Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram has become synonymous in our minds as a norm for website and brand presentation. Here, content has priority, overlaid in grid-based presentations over white, neutral backgrounds. This is especially true in the world of Integrated Website Design Solutions, where social media plays a distinct role in online business marketing. This is worth exploring. Just because you use social media as part of your marketing strategy doesn’t mean your whole business needs to look like a social media platform.. does it?
WordPress is a popular CMS which we use for most of our branded web designs. According to searchenginejournal.com, WordPress powers 39.5% of all websites in 2022. Although a WordPress website can be made to look like anything stylistically, The origins of this platform are in blogging. These origins, in combination with the popularity of WordPress, have shaped the way the internet appears. By focusing (aesthetically) purely on legibility (in the beginning) WordPress in its natural state is still generally a “black text white background” format, which I believe influences the way it is subsequently customised into different designs.
Advancing Beyond a White Background
While there are a range of compelling arguments for using a white background, I started to feel like this option negated the possibilities of delivering a compelling brand experience. After all, is white the best option for a website background just because it’s the easiest option? From a brand point of view, it’s not the best option if everyone else is using it. If your business is unique, then in the brand design stage of business development, you have to consider the possibility that a non-white background could help to create a more compelling and individualistic experience for your customers and stakeholders.
What Colour Should My Website Background Be?
Choosing the colour of your website background is an important decision that is part of the brand design stage – this is the stage where we select the colour range that will define your business when it’s presented online by your website design. Colour selection choices are not simple or immediate. They’re actually a solution to questions. For example: What experience would I like my website to create? Who am I talking to? Who am I different from? These choices also need to be made in relation to functional and management requirements. For this reason, we approach website design with our philosophy of integrated website design solutions, which recognises that decisions in website design must be integrated with other components (brand, marketing, IT, SEO, etc) to create a design that is truely expressive of a business.