Nothing is neutral

Let’s say you move into a new office building. You’re a little uncomfortable with the bold colors your designer is recommending, so you think, “We’ll just leave it white. That’s neutral.” Wrong. White is not nothing, white is something. In fact, some researchers have found that an all white room can be more stressful than a brightly colored one, because in the absence of exciting external stimuli the brain will actually invent it.

On top of that, employees appreciate when their needs are considered (the famous Hawthorne studies showed that productivity increased just because researchers were paying attention to the workers), and nothing screams disinterest louder than “just leave it all white.”

The color of a room, the layout of a page, the use of a particular font, the arrangement of furniture, the music while on hold—these things matter, and they say something. Some choices shout while others only whisper, but either way you’ve got a voice which either adds to or detracts from the conversation.

Sometimes white is the right decision, and sometimes you should defer to the status quo. But these are just options among others, not inherently safer, more effective, or less offensive.

It’s comforting to think that there is an available choice that will offend no one, that will have no effect. It doesn’t exist. The truth is, there’s no such thing as neutral.


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