Why do designs turn white when deleted in Animal Crossing: New Horizons?

As many players begin really digging into decorating their islands with terraforming and adding custom designs, some have noticed and wondered, “Why do designs turn white when deleted?” No, it isn’t a bug, as some people have reported. It is actually an intentional feature. As someone who has worked professionally in game development, I felt I could help shed some light on why this is.

Designs turn white when deleted because there is no true deletion state for the design slots in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. When you choose to delete a custom design, the game doesn’t actually delete that slot. Instead, it overwrites it with the default white design. So if that slot is being overwritten, why does it still show up everywhere you had the previous design? Let’s dive a little deeper!

The Wild World of Arrays

Before we can talk about why the white blocks show up everywhere you had the previous design, we need to discuss a core concept of programming games, or really anything (including this website) — arrays.

An array is basically a fancy programmer word for a list of data. Every row of data in an array gets a number that is used like its ID number. If the program calls that number, it will display the data.

Every furniture item, piece of clothing, hairstyle, etc. in a game is stored in arrays, and then the game will call the ID number when it needs to display that object. Every item from the lowly Cardboard Box to the highly sought after Kitchen Island will have a number associated with it that the game calls in order to display that item, which means if that number is called, the game goes to the array and pulls the data for that item to display.

I can hear you asking now, “That’s cool and all, but what does that have to do with designs?” Everything.

Why Arrays Matter for Designs

As you may have guessed by now, the design slots you get in the game are also stored as an array, and are honestly a great visualization tool for arrays in general. If you place a design on the ground in front of you, it’ll appear as a square tile occupying that space. If you edit the design, you’ll see that square change too.

The designs are displayed by calling that design slot from the array of design slots. When you place a design, the game treats that design like it would any other object. If you place the design in slot 3 on the ground, then go download a new design from the kiosk in Able Sisters and overwrite that slot, it will show up on the ground in place of the old design because just like calling an item like the Cardboard Box from the item array, that space on your island is calling number 3 from the Custom Design Array.

Here you can see the Pink Brick design by Dawniee displayed on the path.

And after deleting it, it becomes just white tiles.

Why Deleted Designs Show Up As White Tiles

So we’ve established that the game calls whatever is in that design slot from the array of designs to display it, but why do deleted designs show up as white tiles? As I mentioned earlier, the game doesn’t have a true deletion state for designs. This means that when you delete a design, there is no data technically being deleted, its just being overwritten.

Design slots don’t have a true empty state. They will always have data in the array for each slot. When you choose to delete a design, the game will just overwrite your design with a default white square design instead of actually deleting the data. It still effectively gets rid of your design, but it keeps the game from causing errors if its trying to call a design slot from the array that is truly empty.

If the game were to truly delete the designs, it would have to have a way to remove every instance of the design being called from an array when it overwrites it. This wouldn’t be great from a game design or player perspective, as anything with the design you deleted on it would disappear. Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ extensive item customization feature allows you to add your custom designs to many of the game’s items. It would really feel bad for your items to disappear if you deleted the design that was being used on them. There could potentially be work arounds, however there would likely be too many bugs caused by implementing this to make it a worthwhile feature to develop.

Why Can’t Deleted Designs Turn Transparent Instead of White?

I’ve seen the suggestion of Nintendo simply making deleted designs turn transparent instead of white, but I feel that that would actually be worse than the designs turning white. If the designs are white, you can see them on the ground. If the designs turned transparent instead of white when you delete the design in that slot, you wouldn’t be able to see them at all. Your island would be covered in transparent designs, and getting rid of them all would take forever and be even more frustrating than cleaning up the white tiles.

While it is unlikely that Nintendo will change the way designs get deleted, there’s always hope that they might add more design slots in the future!

The clothing design seen in this post is the Fam Glam design by Electrimafried, based on the 13th Doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who television series.

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