Be it graphic design or photography, be it advertising or cinema, a black and white aesthetic can take your creative work to the next level.
If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’—John Wayne
The universal appeal of the black and white aesthetic in films, photography, marketing, and designs goes back long in history. Black and white are not mere colors: they represent a lot more.
While it may seem for many that black and white is an inflexible color palette, it is quite the reverse. If there is one thing that all design gurus and creative experts can agree upon, it’s that black and white is an ageless duo.
Ansel Adams, an early 1900’s photographer, believed that photos that looked attractive in black and white would also look good in other colors. But why is black and white so appealing? We will explore that and much more in this article. Plus, check out the bonus section for black and white aesthetics in photography and cinema.
Here is a great black and white video for you.
Are black and white colors?
Britannica says the following:
“If color is solely the way physics describes it, the visible spectrum of light waves, then black and white are outcasts and don’t count as true physical colors.” However, the article from Britannica also mentions the following:
“If you include in the definition of color, however, all of the ways in which human eyes process light and the lack of it, then black and white, as well as pink, earn their places in the crayon box.”
Although the definitions have some contradictory statements, for creative professionals and brand owners, black and white are colors they can bank on.
Good read: Colors and emotion – color emotion guide.
Ask any graphic designer, and he will tell you what hex codes #000000 and #FFFFFF stands for. Creative professionals use these codes to create the purest forms of black and white. While #000000 is black, #FFFFFF is white.
But, is there such a thing as pure black and true white? Well, here is a fact, and I hate to break it to you, nothing can be true black or pure white. But wait, you can find pure black and white in two different places and both exist in outer space. For pure black, you need to travel into the depths of a massive black hole, and pure white can be found in unfiltered sunlight. If that revelation broke your heart, here is a song for you that will make your day.
The black and white charm
When various colors are combined, they evoke varied emotions. These emotions are based on the attributes these colors project; however, the same cannot be said for black and white. Black and white captures emotions that are hidden deep within a person or an object. In other words, colors highlight the outer impressions or attributes, whereas black and white are the souls. They define what lies underneath the outer impressions or attributes.
While colors are attractive and can evoke positive emotions, they can sometimes divert the attention of the audience. When an image is cluttered with excessive design elements and colors, the audience can easily get misguided. Designers and marketers know this fact, which is why they use simple layouts and design elements to create compelling logos and web designs.
Simple color schemes are regarded as high value simply because they are relevant and stick in the audience’s mind long after they have seen a creative design. Be it logos, packaging designs, web or social media, using simple colors, such as black and white aesthetic, can go a long way.
Black and white: symbolic meaning
What is the similarity between Yin and Yang, night and day, masculine and feminine, good and evil, and black and white? I have a simple one-line answer: the only similarity between them is that they are all opposites. They run parallel to each other, just like railway tracks, but never meet. No matter how hard they try, a union is not their fate; however, the combination of these two completely different identities can bring forth something completely new and different.
Black and white are two colors that stand on the opposite poles and are as distinct as can be, which is why when something is black and white, it implies that it is as clear as crystal.
Black and white aesthetic in graphic design
Graphic design is both art and science. From computer screens to billboards and logos, designs are everywhere. Creative professionals play with colors, fonts, and symbols to create breathtaking works of art. But why should graphic designers care for black and white when they have hundreds of colors to play with? The answer is not as complicated as you thought it might be! Creative professionals and marketers can create depth and evoke various emotions by using black and white. Let us explore what the classic black and white color combination can do.
Black and white creates contrast
Black and white have always been used to depict two opposing forces. In popular culture, black has always represented evil and white, the forces of good. Filmmakers, photographers, content creators, and graphic designers use black and white to create contrast
While it is true that emotions are subjective, black and white usually evoke similar feelings in people, which is why these two colors have become such a powerful tool for communication. These two colors create intense emotions but not at the cost of diverting the audience from the key information.
They bring an element of sophistication
What is the similarity between the Nike logo and a car wheel? They are simple and sophisticated. The Nike ‘swoosh’ is perhaps one of the simplest logos in history, and yet, it is powerful and sophisticated. The wheel was an extremely important invention that completely changed the history of the planet. While the Nike ‘swoosh’ and the wheel are not even remotely related, they do tell how simple designs can be sophisticated.
Black and white are two opposite colors that are used from cushions to website designs to evoke sophistication.
They bring order to chaos
Black and white designs can be clean yet eye-catching. No other color combination can create an impact as much as black and white designs can. Sharp patterns or vertical or horizontal lines created by using black and white can easily stand out from designs that are created using different colors. Not only is black and white is used to evoke feelings of nostalgia, but they are also used to create attractive designs and patterns.
Fashion designers use black and white pinstripes, horizontal and vertical lines, squares, and crosses to create shadows, and geometric patterns. The patterns are also common in the interior design industry.
They create mystery
Imagine the 45-second shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The scene pretty much shook the audience. This history-altering film in black and white was released in 1960. The film marked the beginning of a new breed of filmmakers and storytelling. Many such mysterious scenes have been created using black and white. The formula of black and white to create mystery and suspense is still popular. The 2005-thriller Sin City also followed a similar style of filmmaking.
Noir graphics and comics also exploit black and white to create suspense, drama, and mystery.
Here is the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho.
Black and white web design help with SEO rankings
Ask any business owner or a digital marketer, and he will tell you about the importance of SEO rankings. Great marketing is not only about creating fascinating designs and great content; it is also about making your products or services visible on the internet. Tens of thousands of content is uploaded on the net every day. Unless you have proper SEO strategies in place, you are as good as lost in the digital space.
If you dream of making it on top of Google’s search page, you have to have solid SEO strategies. While there are several factors to climb up the search engine, creating clean websites that accelerate the page load speed can be a boon. If you wish to create a minimalist website design, then black and white can be the best choice.
Minimalism in logo designs
A logo cluttered with excessive design elements diverts the attention of the audience, and the purpose of creating the emblem is lost. Ask a graphic designer, and he will tell you the importance of creating a flat and minimal logo.
From Ford to Google, the best brands have minimal logo designs. Simple logos connect with the audience. They highlight and communicate the most crucial personality traits of a brand. Designers and business owners mostly use the combination of black and white to create compelling logo designs. Take some of the biggest brands for example, be it BBC or Chanel, their black and white minimal logos have stood the test of time.
Interesting read: Minimalism in logo designs.
The best colors for branding
There are several factors a marketer has to take into consideration, such as the target audience, audio, visuals, positioning, values, etc. However, marketers often consider black and white when a brand wants to appear simple yet effective with its branding or marketing goals. A marketer can boldly express himself in black and white.
For a designer, black and white can be a weapon of choice because he can use the negative space to his advantage. He can clearly communicate the purpose behind the design clearly using the color palette. More often than not, designers pair black and white with other colors to keep the design grounded.
Related – Rebranding strategies: the ultimate guide.
Black and white design aesthetics for your inspiration with examples
Let us look at some fantastic creative work that will inspire you to create your own in monochromatic designs.
How do you define still objects as having some movement? Well, you can do so by adding a 3D illusion in black and white. Look at this design from Paperjam. This incredible design uses warped lines around the text to give it some depth, which creates the illusion of movement. You can use overlapping lines in black and white to give stationary objects movement.
Create sophisticated website layouts
I have already mentioned in the previous section the role of simple black and white website designs. Not only do they play a vital role in improving SEO rankings, but they can also give your website an edge over the others in terms of sophistication. This website design by Adam Widmaski is simple yet attractive. You can create such alluring designs by only using black and white.
Create elegant patterns
Whenever we think of illustration-based patterns, we generally imagine them in colors. We also tend to associate patterns with geometry. Although patterns are generally colorful and geometric, creating one using black and white could make your illustrations look attractive. Take a look at this monochromatic illustration created by Pharaoh; it is attractive and elegant. The black and white color palette adds a sense of mystery and beauty.
Combine imagery and type
Image Credit: Atelier & Jana
This elegant and sophisticated design was created by Atelier & Jana. This poster combines imagery and type seamlessly. The elegant use of black and white watercolors, in addition to custom hand type, makes the poster look extremely creative. You can experiment with monochromatic watercolors to make your design look classy.
Use symmetry and keep it simple
Image Credit: Cocorrina
Symmetry brings harmony to your designs. You can use simple bold lines to create attractive designs. Simple creations are the most attractive ones. You can say a lot by using minimum design elements; that is the beauty of simplicity. This design by Cocorrina, for example, uses black and white together with text and flowers. This very balanced design is simple, yet it speaks volumes.
Interesting read: Best free fonts.
Now that you have had a glimpse of black and white design aesthetics: let us quickly get into the bonus section, where we will talk a little more about the use of black and white aesthetic in photography and cinema.
Bonus: Black and white aesthetics in photography and cinema
Like graphic design, photography and cinema are creative mediums that can express a myriad of feelings and emotions. While photography and cinema use colors to enhance their narratives, black and white still hold a prominent place. We will explore the use of black and white in photography and cinema one by one.
Black and white aesthetic in photography
Nothing can look purer than capturing raindrops on a leaf in black and white. Nothing can create more depth and drama than capturing shadows and shapes in black and white. Photography is a medium that evokes a myriad of emotions. Black and white design aesthetic makes your photos unique and attractive. But how can I take such amazing photos like the one below? Well, let me explain.
Image Credit: Click Love Grow
Photography is all about expressing yourself; however, you first need to understand the camera and light. Without light, there can be no photos. The technical aspect of the camera includes understanding ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. These are the tools that help you control the light. You also have to understand what various angles of light can produce. Once you understand these, you can then produce awesome photographs like the one above.
Black and white aesthetic in cinema
Cinema is one of the most powerful mediums in the world today. But what makes cinema such a powerful medium? As an audience, watching a film involves two of our sense organs being active. Be it painting or music: only one of our sense organs are involved. In the case of painting the eyes are involved, and in the case of music, our ears. Since cinema is an audio-visual medium, both our eyes and ears have to equally be in the present moment, which is why it is so powerful.
The first films in cinema history were made in black and white; however, with colors being developed, everything changed. Today, filmmakers use black and white as a weapon to create nostalgia or mystery, depending on the script. Filmmakers use monochrome to make an aesthetic point. The 1982 Steve Martin film Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is an excellent example of film noir. Black and white films are extremely popular today as they make the scenes rich and exclusive.
Here is the trailer of the popular Hollywood blockbuster Sin City.
The bottom line
In a world of colors, stories told in black and white can create a powerful impact. Graphic artists, filmmakers, photographers, and marketers can create impressions of life by using black and white to bring drama, depth, and emotions to their creative works.
Head of Design at DesignBro and is responsible for UI/UX Design, managing the global designer community, and ensuring quality levels of both designers and designs remain high.