Look at any group of electronics today and with very few exceptions you can guess the colours it will be available in- white, silver or black. Just like Ford’s Model T car that infamously came in any colour so long as it was black, it seems out cherished gadgets are bound by the same monotone rules. But why?
While there are no empirical studies I have found so far, the internet is full of helpful suggestions and guesses which may or may not be right! Have a read and see which you think are most plausible?
To manage heat:
By far the most common reason suggested is that black in particular is used to help manage and diffuse the natural heat generated by the componentry. While we all know from school science experiments that black soaks up rather than reflects heat, it therefore acts as a good heat sponge. Though it may inevitably bring some heat into the internal workings of the machine from the outside (particularly in a warm environment), to a greater proportion it will be soaking up much of the internal heat generated by the motor and parts. When you consider that our gadgets are getting constantly smaller, then this means that the space that the componentry has to fit into and still ‘breathe’ has also got much tighter.
While I love the logic of this explanation, if it were true why don’t we just see all coloured or non-black examples getting returned regularly because of overheating? Hum.
To manage light:
This suggestion came from someone who claimed to have experience of the issue dating back to the 1970s- namely that most semi-conductor junctions are photo sensitive and therefore excessive exposure to light will cause the chips to malfunction. Black will keep the internal workings in the dark and I’m guessing white or silver would similarly reflect the external light away also?
To keep down costs:
This is the classic Ford Model-T argument that manufacturers stick to just one or two basic colours in order to keep the cost of production down. I’m sure this argument is true to an extent, especially when dealing with multiple production runs, but as all plastics start out transluscent before a pigment is added, the cost should be the same whether we stuck to our blacks and silvers or made everything green, pink or orange instead.
To maximise sales:
Colour as we know is a very personal thing and driven by taste. While one person will love a particular colour, shade or tone, the next person will hate it. In contrast colours such as white, black and silver have been shown to be the least offensive to people so would appeal to the largest numbers thus helping to maximise sales. If you look around there are plenty of electronic gadgets out there that have been brave enough to use a wider colour palette, however they also seem to have been the ones that have dated visually the quickest. Black, white and silver are timeless colours……..teal, crimson and mustard are fleeting fashions!
It is accurate to say that Japan has played a major role in the global electronics boom not only in designing and manufacturing components, but also in product design. Watching documentaries about the birth of the Japanese electronics industry after WW2 reminds us of the impact traditional Japanese aesthetics had on these fledgling companies. Black, white and grey (silver) are always strongly associated with Japanese culture and their ability to incorporate these colours into cutting edge design meant those colours quickly became part of the universal design language of electronics.
All the suggestions above have an element of truth to them and it is probably a combination of astute assumptions and experience that keeps our products in the colours they are. Today we associate white with cleanliness and purity so it is little wonder Apple continue to use it in their ranges, As brands get known for certain colours so their desire to widen the palate drops also.
From the point of view of collectors, it is often the more unusual and braver colour combinations (and designs) that are ultimately worth the most money. Therefore don’t forget to thank the producer of your latest garish lime green phone or tablet – in 30 years time it may prove the best investment you ever made!
If you have any other suggestions for why we limit the colours of our tech, do get in touch…..we’ll add it to the list!
image attribution: Deiter Rams Record Player by Max Erds ; Black iphone by Sharif ; Silver Sony Tuner by Matt Kieffer ; Red Radio by Alexkerhead