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What's In a Name? The Story of White Whale's Brand

“What do Whales have to do with data analytics?”

“Is the logo supposed to be a Whale?”

“White Whale? Is it supposed to be a reference to Moby Dick?”

We get a lot of questions about our name and logo – enough that we thought we’d write a blog post discussing the story and meaning behind the name, and how it fits with what we do as a company.

In White Whale’s early days, the co-founders Robert Mereau and Peter Guo would apply an animal-colour naming convention to their code files as an organization tactic for the various projects they were working on. The idea was that opening the file and seeing the colour of the script editor and the file naming convention would mitigate confusion in their busy workspaces. Of all the possible combinations, the words “white” and “whale” just seemed to belong with each other, for reasons that are probably obvious to lovers of alliteration.

Knowing the story behind the name isn’t what people usually have questions about, though – they want to know what it means. People’s first response to the White Whale brand is almost always a question and a feeling of slight confusion. While it’s rare that people immediately understand why we’d choose a name like White Whale, it’s equally rare that people assume it’s arbitrary, something we chose because we liked the sound of it and nothing more. To most, it’s clear that there’s meaning in the name, some deliberate reason that we chose this as our brand, but they’re not certain they know exactly what it is. That sense of mystery and ambiguity, the hunch that there’s something more to explore, and the impulse to question is both deliberate and at the core of what we do as a company.

Many people correctly guess that “White Whale” alludes to the well-known allegory “Moby Dick”, commenting on an endless pursuit of meaning. Captain Ahab’s obsession with the whale symbolizes the endless pursuit for the answers we seek, an inherent element of humanity driving so many of its greatest achievements. In the classic novel’s 99th chapter, Ishmael says, “And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth, and the round world itself but an empty cipher…“, and data analysis is one example of this ultimate search for meaning. As much as it may seem like a purely objective pursuit, it is often fraught with ambiguity, subject to varying interpretations, and lacks a clearly defined end point. It is the human pursuit of meaning, questions, and ideas which drives data analysis forward and this translates into the human-centered approach White Whale takes to solving problems. It is the clients we've had over our 6 years in business that drive us to find the unseen insights that are meaningful to them.

In the same way that Ishmael concludes that the world itself is not an “empty cipher” and must mean something, the White Whale logo is intended to be a cipher of sorts – a symbol with meaning that isn’t immediately obvious. While the logo is intended to be reminiscent of a whale, it is equally a geometric symbol, each with its own purpose and meaning. Broadly speaking, the logomark can be broken into 3 main parts:

Logo breakdown
A breakdown of the logo's 3 main parts.

  1. Understand: The central “eye” is intended to evoke a sense of seeing, and understanding, with the outer ring that emphasizes the perfectly circular shape of the eye and blends the line between organic and mechanical.
  2. Question: The incomplete shape around the eye creates asymmetry and is designed to both invoke and represent questioning. Why is the layer incomplete? One potential reason is that it forms a shape much like a squared off question mark.
  3. Explore: The downward facing “fins” give a downward direction to the shape as a whole, and represent diving deeper into knowledge and insights that can only be observed from beneath the surface.

Over the last 6 years, we’ve understood myriad problems by questioning and exploring. What we’ve found has carved a path through familiar territories and illuminated new possibilities previously unforeseen. At this point in White Whale’s journey, it’s important to us to tell our story as we continue to find meaning in uncertainty, and the call to do so becomes greater in today’s world. This all isn’t to say, though, that we don’t understand – or welcome – the mystique around White Whale’s name and identity; it’s just a coincidence that has been so consistent that we wanted to give the people the answers they’re looking for. As our friend Herman Melville once said, it is, after all, the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him.


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