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Darker Than Black: Notes on a Global Subculture of Creatives

Who are those edgy-looking, tattoo-loving, black-wearing people you see, drowning in their macbook screen with a horrendous posture? They have something in common - a purpose, a skillset, an industry, a mindset - an identity. I'm one of them - let's talk about it.

Palette Cleanse

You'll notice that I'm giving you the colour-blind experience on this whole page, with minor infusions of colour when I need to accentuate a point. The reason is contrast and palette cleansing. My goal is to provide a fluff-free, soundproof, neutral safe space - a palette cleanse. When you get tired of it, a colour, a word, a piece of explosive media is inserted, generating contrast and waking you up.


We're always on our devices, bombarded with sounds, colours, explosions, ads, TikTok dances and appeals to become a conversion. Digital media and its various expressions become white noise, turning us numb and increasing the swipe speed, tiring out our thumbs. The marketing game is now all about managing anxiety and providing value in exchange for attention.

For the average media consumer, that may not be a problem. But for marketers, creatives and people who have an above-average commitment to viewing digital media - sensitivity to digital media cannot be lost, as it is an essential tools of the trade. This is why minimalism is popular with the creative crowds - it doesn't introduce unnecessary noise or cause any extra anxiety or pressure to the daily routine.


As a marketer, I recognise that every single client brings a set of colours that define their identity as a professional, business and/or brand. To expose them, it is only logical to dim the room and allow them to wield the projector in a sound-proof safe space. And that's why my reports, presentations, personal attire and content is all B&W - I leave space for colours to come from the client.


But there's more to it.


Minimalism is our Batery Saving mode

Once you log in and check comms, you're forced into a world of infinite stimuli, from stupid ads to formal emails, and these are great at draining energy along with focus. We need this energy to move forward. We need this focus to pay attention to the details that matter. It is necessary to increase the quality of our work, while retaining some form of daily happiness.


I don't want to think about what colour tie to wear to match my socks. My Mac is grey. Its briefcase, my phone and their background wallpapers are black and everything matches.

A white piece of paper with a black ink pen signals the start of my daily work. Stop looking at that cafe menu. All you need is a clear glass of water and a darker-than-life espresso.


A bunch of black sheep sitting on my left while I type this out - a blessing to see the stories on their skin not being overpowered by a cheap company polo shirt.

Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day to reduce this exact kind of decision fatigue. While his blue jeans are iconic, I don't even have blue in my wardrobe - it's all black.


Classic Power

Face it, black and white is sexy. If you are to choose one suit for the rest of your life, you'll get it in black, with the only negotiables being the shirt and tie. It works for weddings and funerals, and, for me, it improves work.

Black and white are the most powerful colours in fashion psychology. One will slim you down; the other will make you look big. One will hide imperfections, and the other signals ultimate freshness and cleanliness. Both will work to create contrast and make your message clear. It is the default position, the prime mover at the start of each project, each creative idea and the start of execution. At first, there was darkness and then there was the bang - black and white.


Now the design school will teach you to avoid pure black and pure white, as they are not seen in nature and they tend to increase anxiety. But, as a marketer, your business is not to decrease anxiety, but to figure out how to create it and alleviate it with a single pitch. Your arts class teacher won't get it; but a marketer will.


Mass Chromophobia

As I'm sitting here in this cafe, dressed in black, drinking espresso that is as delightfully repulsive as a vodka shot, I see a couple of creatives sitting to my left (see the long hair dude on the left side - he's the author of all paintings on the walls). They're dressed in black. Go to any professional space for creatives and you'll notice them yourself - the black sheep, separating themselves from a noisy, colourful, conforming crowd.

Why do creatives wear black? Colour runs deep through our veins as designers, marketers and rockers of all sorts, but we don’t wear it on our sleeves. I think we have a shared condition, a side effect of creative ability - Chromophobia.

Chromophobia. Fear of colour. Designers’ professional lives can’t escape colour. Colour studies. Colour psychology. Finding colours that feel new. Finding colours that feel known. Adapting when your client has a vendetta against the very exact hex code you used. Where does this feat come into play?

Whole marketing campaigns and products are created around the colour of the year. Even entire markets have a monopoly over specific colour schemes. Red and yellow - fast food industry; red and green - Christmas. Yet creatives have a monopoly on black. They hate large corporate fast-food ambitions, they fear to break the colour code of their wardrobe with a stupid Christmas sweater. Chromophobia will turn that sweater into a black looney tunes themed techno rave piece, and it's the best we can do.


Marketing agencies that are not at odds with creativity typically have a laissez-faire attitude towards the work dress code (when clients are not around, at least), yet you step into their headquarters and can't help but think that their attire matches the soundproofing panels on the walls. Countless memes, and hundreds of questions on Quora, Reddit and other online forums - asking why designers wear one colour.


When it comes to iconic snapshots of renowned designers, a recurring theme emerges - a monochromatic attire that complements a black-and-white filter.

Whether we realize it or not, black is often linked to success within the industry, leading us to emulate this approach. Consider the likes of Steve Jobs, whose signature black turtleneck became a symbol of his iconic status, or Sylvia Harris, who paired a black boat top with a tasteful necklace. Even Vera Wang, a celebrated fashion designer in her own right, favours a sleeveless black top and matching bottoms, all tied together with a pair of black heels. Fear of failure makes us dress black and white.


The phrase “I should have known you were a designer based on your outfit.” is a sign that your identity aligns with your profession. We're rainbow chromophobes and that's ok.


Witch Hunt

Meet Stella. I adopted her at 5 months old. She's a black Thai cat and I consider her to be my actual blood daughter, a magic familiar that makes sure to get me away from the laptop for a light stretch, snack and fun with a fluffy demon. Imagine a bipolar anti-vegan baby with fangs and claws that can reach the ceiling - much like those black wearing, tattooed, poor-posture, macbook wielding creatives.

Black cats have been subjected to discrimination and superstition for centuries, with many people still harbouring an unfounded fear of them. The origins of this fear can be traced back to medieval times when black cats were believed to be witches' familiars, or animal companions, and were associated with dark magic and devil worship.


This perception was reinforced during the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries when black cats were often killed alongside their human owners. Today, despite being no more or less lucky than any other cat, black cats are still viewed with suspicion and are often the last to be adopted from animal shelters.

Some animal rights advocates say that we should abandon these fears, and, while that is a seemingly safe strategy to increase the adoption rate, I think there's a better way. We do it by embracing the identity of the 'black cat' and telling the story behind this unique animal creed. Superstitions are dying along with the current generation of adults and millennials, Gen Z, and future gens are no longer affected by them. On the contrary - they're searching for meaning, a story, a tribulation to overcome. And what better way to appeal to the modern rebel than to offer a furry icon of outcast dark wizardry?

Everyone goes through trial and tribulation while becoming their true selves. Creatives are often shunned by the boring, non-creative, conservative masses, yet they wear it as a badge of honour. The blackness in our everyday carry allows us to embrace our unique identities and creative talents is what allows us to be free, authentic and productive - and black cats are the perfect animals that embody this push for an excitingly rebellious mode of being. Adopt a black cat from your local animal shelter, put on your witch hat and be hunted.


Fade into yourself

They say great creativity comes from great pain. While working as a bouncer in various gigs, I can't tell you how many times this rule rang true - alcohol brings out the things that weigh heavy on your soul. The creative souls from my university were the ones drinking themselves to a comatosed state, crying their souls out and not resisting when it was time for them to finish their last drink for the night. One or two times, I joined them.


Listen to Mazzy Star's single 'Fade into you'. It's about A seemingly romantic and cute song, you wouldn't want to play it during your wedding dance after a deeper reflection on the meaning behind the lyrics.

The singer thought she finally found someone true, falling in love with them, yet the person had many walls built up. She reaches past those walls and shows how much she cares, thinking he is damaged and has a dark perception of the world - hoping that this can be reversed. Despite her efforts, he doesn't really open himself.


She realizes she will never get through to him because he won't let her. She loves him, yet he is seemingly incapable of loving her back because some form of darkness has consumed him (depression?). What she thought was inside of him may not even be there, yet she's still committed to loving him regardless. She looks at him and sees "nothing" because what she originally saw in him doesn't really exist. Now that "nothing" has become the truth to her. She has to remind herself he can't give back. It is now a defining and permanent aspect of reality.

To me, this song represents the depressing realization that some people can't look to someone else to realize themselves and find happiness. Many of us have this deep darkness that we either succumb to or integrate with. And the process of integration means learning how to live with yourself and this 'darkness' that follows you around. Fading into yourself, loving yourself with no expectation of return on investment, surrendering to the creative process and using your pain as a conduit to the free and authentic expression of your identity in your creative work.

If you've explored meditation or any form of Buddhist mindfulness, you'll recognise that there is one rule to it - think nothing. As a beginner in meditation, you often get distracted by the various 'famous' techniques and popular gimmicks to facilitate the Western take on mindfulness, yet the only thing you need is to learn how to stop thinking, to become an unconscious observer and let all the thoughts that form your consciousness flow freely and without friction.


And all that you end up with is the darkness behind your eyelids, eventually forming slight glimpses of light. Black and white.

When entire rock music crowds, hordes of creatives and other black sheep partake in this obsession about wearing black, it gives us a strange sense of purpose as seemingly unrelated members of a global movement - the only unifying feature being the one or two colours that we choose to wear.


When something as simple as wearing a black t-shirt at your local co-working space connects you with people across all cultures, purging your wardrobe of colour is a comforting inevitability.


unthink marketing,

harry



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