The White Whale team posing for a socially distanced photo in Crescent Heights


Design Inspirations from Fushimi Inari Taisha

by Peter Guo, White Whale Partner, Chief Architect

In May, I was inspired by a trip to Japan, a place where tradition melds with modernity, a place I last visited 10 years ago as a backpacker. This trip, however, felt different. I was experiencing the country with a heightened sense of awareness, noticing things in ways the younger me was oblivious to. Fushimi Inari Taisha was one of those unforgettable places that etched a profound mark on my senses.

While the name might sound unfamiliar, you've probably encountered a photo of it—with its cascading vermilion torii gates set against the serene backdrop of the lush green forest of Inari Mountain. A spectacular Instagram post no doubt, however it resonates with me in a different way as an infusion of spirituality, history, and aesthetics.

Functionally a "gate" marks the precise boundary between two distinctive and binary spaces. And its state—open or closed—signals whether a passage between the two spaces is allowable or forbidden but never both simultaneously.

A torii gate only has one state–open. When linked next to each other, collectively they blur the boundaries of spaces they are meant to create, forming an illusion of continuity. But here, the gates have a different purpose; each represents a wish made or gratitude for a wish that came true. The writings on the posts inscribe the name(s) of people and commemorative dates. Walking through these corridors is like traveling through 1000 years in time and 1000 years worth of collective stories. A typical visit to a shrine turned into a mesmerizing experience. How could technology be used to evoke emotions?

Re-imagined as a DeepSea dashboard theme

The train to take us back to the hotel arrived with precise punctuality. I zoned out as the peaceful countryside passed by at 200 clicks an hour. I was lost in my own thoughts. It occurred to me our relentless pursuit of efficiency and uniformity seems to encroach our yearning for a more compassionate touch. Despite the monumental advances in technology, the user experience in enterprise applications seems to have stagnated, if not regressed.

Caught up in these reflections, it struck me how often even the smallest elements; such as color themes, play a significant role in our digital experiences.

In the world of data dashboards, color themes are frequently an afterthought. Many of these themes bear titles that seem bizarre, esoteric, and at times, entirely whimsical. Unless an individual painstakingly tweaks every color on every chart, dashboards are often published in the default color scheme, or a few other palettes—whose naming often lacks any connection to the visual appeal as if the names are plucked from thin air, devoid of the stories or emotions that colors often evoke. Take, for instance, the color theme "City Park" from a mainstream dashboard application; it curiously resembles "Classroom", despite their vernacular distance.

We perceive the world through symbolic representations. While we craft these visual data narratives, the essence of storytelling is diluted among a sea of charts that appear nearly identical. And ironically, even within this homogeneity, our subconscious unequivocally discerns figures made using Microsoft Excel, Power BI, or matplotlib.

I created the Fushimi Inari color theme in an attempt to change this. I hand-picked the colours from my photos. In doing so, I wish to build a palette that is not merely replicated but reimagined to echo its deeper philosophical undertones.

I want to use color themes to create a delightful experience for our users, to take them beyond the screens to the tranquil mountainside of ancient Kyoto, where the gentle rustle of leaves and the melodies of birds are the only interruptions.

In the rigors of the modern world, I wish this approach to be a distant glimpse that technology, when married with geo-cultural awareness, can be soulful and poetic.

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