SASS: It’s Fine, Carry on Defining Blacks

In his article, SASS: Stop Defining Useless Color Variables, Jono Herrington argues that:

There is never a time where you will update the variables $White or $Black to be anything other then #FFF or #000.

Nope! Wrong.

Jono’s definition of black is too narrow.

Blackness lives in a multitude of shadows swimming on the edge of perception. #1e1313 is not #000000 but in a composition sitting against #ffc30b and #5cb890 it is black. #1e1313 is a warm and beautiful black. It inhabits the world of that yellow and turquoise instead of being superimposed in front of it. But it isn’t a dark grey. It isn’t a very very very very dark red. It isn’t a space brown.

It’s a black.

The filled circle on the left is #1e1313 & the filled circle on the right is #000000. No wait…

Am I to insist on a new name for this black?

BlackWithAhintOfBurgundy? BlackCocoaBrown? Redblack?

Great! Now I have a baffling variable name, and also a constant need to explain why it isn’t black. (Which it is.)

Design for the eye, not the ruler

  • A black cat’s fur is black
  • Charcoal from the burnt end of a stick on a cave wall is black
  • A crow is black

None of these things are devoid of illumination. They have nicks and scratches and specks and motes. The detiritus of things that exist in the world. But to describe them as ‘not black’ is wrong. A numerical pedantry over effective communication.

Vantablack grown on tinfoil, Surrey NanoSystems. Wikipedia Commons

Vantablack is the blackest known substance and it only absorbs 99.965% of visible radiation. No black ever printed on paper or illuminated in a pixel has ever truly inhabited a value of zero zero zero. That “true” black doesn’t exist in human manufacture. Jono’s stance is a product of overestimating a machine’s ability to translate hypothetical values in to nature.

That approach might save a couple of characters in a text file, but it fundamentally misinterprets reality, and discourages us from using of a whole night’s worth of colour.

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