What’s with all the black-and-white logos for apps?

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When I intend to work out with the Peloton app, I sometimes accidentally tap Wahoo, a different exercise app on my phone.

Or sometimes my finger mistakenly wanders to another fitness-related app from 4iiii.

I get these apps mixed up because their logos all have white text on a black background. My brain can’t tell the apps apart at a glance.

Once I noticed just how many app logos have white-on-black color schemes — including Threads, the BBC, Uber, Apple TV, and, yup, The Washington Post — I had to know what the heck was going on.

What’s wrong with, you know, colors?

Other apps — including the New York Times, the RealReal shopping app and the dating app Hinge — take the opposite tack with black text on a white background.

(Actually, the Times says its logo colors have slightly reduced contrast like newsprint and are “93 percent black and 95 percent white.”)

My investigation into the black-and-white mystery has a serious side. Smartphones and apps are important cultural markers, and their evolving designs reflect our collective moment and mood.

Judging by all the black-heavy logos, we live in the land of brooding goth apps. Put on your eyeliner and Doc Martens boots — and get into it.

The art and science of logo colors

There’s a perhaps apocryphal theory that the color red makes people feel hungry and that’s why some food companies such as McDonald’s have red in their logos.

Snapchat created its app logo with a “joyful and happy” yellow because no popular apps were using that color, a spokeswoman says.

Reddit says “bold color usage,” including its red-orange logo, is “integral” to the online message board’s brand.

As for why black-and-white seems to be the color scheme of the moment, I got dizzy from all the theories.

To some companies and design experts, black and white conveys luxury, sleekness, calm simplicity — or the complex spectrum of our lives, as the CEO of white-on-black social app BeReal told me.

To Michael Ernst, a brand and product designer who was Yelp’s founding designer, black-dominant apps reflect bro-ness.

“Many of the brand identities that incorporate black color schemes tend to feel more masculine,” Ernst said.

Black-and-white logos can be practical, too.

Black pairs well with other colors, Ernst said. And the Times said its black logo on a white app background looks good even if your phone is in “dark” mode that changes the screen’s background to permanent black.

Daniel Hallac, chief product officer for Hearst Newspapers, said that as with fashion, app design trends can swing from one extreme to another.

For a while, he said, bright colors were the epitome of app cool, like Snapchat’s yellow and Facebook’s bright blue logo. It was perhaps inevitable that the pendulum would swing to colorless.

“Every time you go through a very bold period, the reaction is to counterprogram,” Hallac said. “Bright maybe feels 2018.”

Perhaps there’s no single explanation for why so many app logos are black and white.

This could be the app version of convergent evolution, which led humans and koalas to each have opposable thumbs. (Look it up!) A bunch of apps independently arrived on black and white.

Trying to stand apart, but looking the same

At least quantitatively, black-and-white apps are not dominant.

Of the 100 most downloaded iPhone apps in the United States last week, according to Sensor Tower, nine have black-and-white logos, including e-commerce company Shein, Meta’s Threads and ChatGPT.

The most prevalent color combination among the top apps appeared to be blue and white — including for Max, Facebook, Venmo, Zoom, LinkedIn and Indeed.

But these apps are different shades of blue that make them look fairly distinct even at a glance. With black-and-white apps, there’s not much nuance to tell apps apart.

So there may not be more black-and-white apps than those of other colors, but it might feel that way because they look similar.

Evite’s recently overhauled logo and app ditched a peppy green that the digital stationery company featured for decades for — you guessed it — black and white.

Evite’s head of creative, Eddie Rhyu, told me that black “has a presence to it.” The black-and-white logo also lets people’s colorful digital invitations and cards stand out.

Rhyu said that unlike the multiple black-heavy exercise apps on my phone, there aren’t many apps with similar color schemes in Evite’s category. “If I were in the fitness industry, I would think twice” about black and white, Rhyu said.

And there’s an irony if companies that want to stand out with black-and-white logos instead make people confused about which app is which, said Marcie Cooperman, a color theory expert at the New School’s Parsons School of Design.

“When so many brands do it, it turns into a trend,” she said. “But that, of course, defeats the purpose.”

Read more: Tatum Hunter spent weeks trying technologies to help find her color “season.” It was a journey.

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