“White” is not a book about colors. It is rather Kenya Hara’s attempt to explore the essence of “White”, which he sees as being closely related to the origin of Japanese aesthetics – symbolizing simplicity and subtlety. The central concepts discussed by Kenya Hara in this publication are emptiness and the absolute void. Kenya Hara also sees his work as a designer as a form of communication. Good communication has the distinction of being able to listen to each other, rather than to press one‘s opinion onto the opponent. Kenya Hara compares this form of communication with an “empty container”.
White Book Review
Right from the start, the author reveals that the point of this book is to explore Japanese aesthetics, mostly its simplicity and subtlety, through the concept of white and emptiness. Hara also touches on the subject of communication, where he states that successful communication depends on how well we listen, rather than how we push our opinions on a particular person.
Main Ideas and Concepts
- White only exists in our perception, just as black text on a sheet of white paper is not actually black, but rather it appears black in contrast with the white in the paper. White can be conceived as a color, but it can also be conceived as a noncolor.
- Language and words give colors another level of meaning, because we associate words with colors, and therefore we associate feelings with these words. Associating words and names to colors make us associate emotions to them, a color’s name might give us the feeling of pleasure, empathy or even pain.
- White is considered an unusual color because it can also be perceived as the absence of color. White can be achieved through blending all the colors of the spectrum, or through the subtraction of all pigments in ink, it is all colors and no color at the same time. If white is not simply a color, it can perhaps be understood as a design concept or expression.
- Paper is white. Although that is obvious, we often take that fact for granted because paper is all around us. Paper is the extreme form of purity. People are driven to express themselves when they come in contact with paper. When holding a sheet of paper, one can feel the amount of creative possibility and imagination.
- When we select colors in our designs, we should keep in mind the function each color serves in the overall outcome of the design.
- White may appear more or less white in contrast to the colors that surround it. The degree of whiteness is not an indication of how we perceive white.
- Different types of letters and characters can invoke different kinds of emotions.
- White is closely related to emptiness, because it can be considered as a noncolor. Emptiness doesn’t necessarily mean nothingness, it rather indicates a condition in which it will be filled with content in the future.
The book is written in a philosophical, often spiritual, design language. It is divided into a few short chapters with lots of paragraphs. Almost each paragraph seems to have an entirely new idea than the paragraph before it. The author uses a lot of repetition of certain key ideas and concepts, for emphasis.
Thoughts and Comments
Kenya Hara’s White is a wonderful view of Japanese culture and design history through the perspectives of white and emptiness. He discusses white as an entire design element, rather than as a color.
That said, the ideas somehow felt completely unrelated to one another, as you’re reading, you get the feeling of jumping from concept to another without fully understanding anything.
There is also a lot of repetition of ideas throughout the book, for example the concept that “White is all colors, but is also no color” is repeated through various paragraphs throughout the book.
In my opinion, the author’s attempt at philosophy wasn’t all that successful, it feels as though he had a few great ideas and concepts about the entity “white”, but he himself didn’t quite fully understand them. Or perhaps, he intended the book to have a bunch of broad concepts without any exploration whatsoever.
The overall tone of the book as whole can be seen as prejudiced, because of the condescending manner in which the ideas were presented. After I finished the book, it felt as though the author was saying the Japanese invented White, Emptiness and even Design!
Taking it all in, the book is an OK read. Although it has some great design concepts and ideas to think about, for me, it fell a little short.