There’s an oceanic push and pull to the trends within the design industry. Or, in design terms, there’s a constant cycle of copy-paste ideology. Recently, I’ve noticed a new stylistic trend that’s been overwhelming the app icons populating my phone background. And it’s colorless.
The second my Twitter app pivoted away from its bright blue bird logo to an industrial black and white “X,” I noticed that the rest of my home screen was riddled with a similar black-and-white design style.
Yes, it took the melodramatic change of one app for me to clock the pervasiveness of this trend, but now I can’t unsee it: we’re in a colorless era. I’ve always been interested in the theoretical design pendulum of trends shifting from one extreme to another, but I never thought that black and white design would displace color.
“To consumers, black and white branding can say, ‘this is an established company’— it’s kind of a power move to move into an all black and white space, or even to start with one,’ shared Isa Segalovich, a graphic designer, multimedia artist, and writer for Hyperallergic. “Smaller brands often rely on colors to distinguish themselves from the noise— once you have an enormous corporation, you can shed those colors and say, ‘We don’t need these anymore to stand out. Everyone knows what an apple with a bite taken out of it means.’”
The TikTok app logo design was a pioneer of this trend, as one of the first social media platforms to embrace the stark aesthetic. Sure, there’s a subtle pop of pink and blue behind the brand’s logo, but the overall black-and-white design projects a sense of sophistication to an app that didn’t start out with much. And then, more recently, there’s Threads— Zuckerberg’s latest attempt to take over the internet— which touts yet another flat and austere black and white logo. Not long after Threads was released, Twitter stripped down to X, and our phones got even darker. Many others are already on the black-and-white logo bandwagon as well, including Uber, BeReal, and the popular video editing app CapCut.
X has been the final, most egregious straw for designers being nudged into a colorless space in the tech world, but the removal of color has already been taking over other industries outside of tech-based design. A study referenced in a recent Arch Daily article has revealed that vibrant tones are being used far less across the board, sending the world into a grayer state. The investigation also found that many more cars had previously been spangled in vivid hues than in the present day, while now an increasing number are coated in silver, black, and white. This same pattern is prevalent in household interiors as well: the bold colors that once adorned finishes, decorative items, and furniture up until the mid-20th century have undergone a gradual fading over time. In fact, people are now being mocked for their “Millennial Grey” interiors.
But is a lack of color necessarily a bad thing? Let’s investigate. One could argue that simplifying branding in this way allows the brands themselves to take a step back and let the platforms flourish through their content.
“At the end of the day, X, Threads, and TikTok are about the content,” Alex Center, Founder of CENTER, told me. “The product is the people: people’s creations, ideas, words, and videos. The brands serve as a house or museum, and I think of many museums as platforms. If you consider it, museums’ identities are typically black and white. The walls are white, and the typography and some of the branding are minimal. And that’s very purposeful because those places and those brands aren’t meant to overshadow. They’re intended to provide a pedestal, platform, house, or canvas for the art. And in the case of those brands, specifically X and TikTok, the product itself is made by people. That is why people go there; it’s the people that make up the color, if you will. So I think black and white is just a way to sort of get out of the way.”
Suppose brands, specifically content-sharing-based brands, shift away from color— an easily recognizable and ownable design element. In that case, they’ll have to use typography, shapes, and patterns to define their brand through visual language. When color is no longer the driving force of design, something else will become the differentiating factor. X, for example, has already re-released its black and white app logo design as one with a grunge-y, almost peeled texture.
“I think a lot about trends in design and our direct reaction to the thing that preceded them,” continued Center. “When we think about the more maximalist, more textured, and colorful world of the ‘90s, the pendulum swung towards minimalism in the 2000s, stripping back a lot of the excess, which led to what people call blanding. And a lot of that was also so that things could get scaled down in size so that when you’re looking at a logo the size of a penny on your phone, some textures don’t scale very well. I’ve been watching this over the last five years; there was a move towards doing things that are more expressive, more chaotic, less precious, and more fun, and that does sometimes involve textures, chromes, shadows, and things that are bringing a little bit more personality to brands. Much of that is happening, but I think it relates to how brands can differentiate themselves outside of color.”
While we’re just now at the tipping point of this trend completely taking over app logo designs, not all brands are turning toward black-and-white design.
“Other brands seem like they’re diving into bright colors even more— I’m thinking of all the companies that are really leaning into the ’Corporate Memphis’ style,” offered Segalovich. “Some pharma brands, for example, and medical service industries in general can’t afford to look as sleek and powerful as a tech brand. They have to maintain a semblance of approachability and trust. Food brands are retaining their colors as well. I think they rely on that pop of color to indicate ‘color,’ ‘freshness,’ and ’flavor.’”
So, if you want to stand out in tech design right now, inject your logo with neon colors— as we all know, going against the grain is a great strategy for making a splash. Plus, as creative beings at our core, humans will always crave at least a pop of color, even if the apps we’re currently using say otherwise.