The Paradox of Blue

Kremer Associates Rebrand

Do you feel blue when you’re sad, or are you a blue-sky optimist? We sing the blues when we’ve lost a friend, yet look for the blue bird of happiness.

Same color, different meanings.

The color blue is a paradox, provoking a wide range of emotions. Perhaps that’s why it can be the brand color for so many wildly different companies, from IBM and ATT, to Twitter and Facebook.

So what’s true about blue?

Blue is the top favorite color. Perhaps that’s why so many of the marketing directors I work with ask for blue in their logos and branding. Blue has a universal appeal.

Blue is the most popular color for corporate logos, with 43% of Fortune 500 companies using blue. It is also on the rise among cars colors in North America, after black, white and grey.

Blue induces calm and peace, but also evokes freedom, the limitless potential of the sky and the sea. This is so ingrained in our psyche that all it takes is a few blue squiggles in a line to represent ocean waves. Similarly, when I put cartoon thought bubbles against a blue background, you see clouds in the sky.

Is blue your brand?

My clients are looking for a design that reflects their company’s goals and mission. Dark blues are associated with substance, wealth, stability, safety, trust, and loyalty – and lend these qualities to companies that embrace it. They use it to reinforce their unique story and create a lasting imprint.

Classic navy blue is a powerful color for suits and ties and dress blue military uniforms. This is how we dress to impress and inspire confidence.

Does blue have the power to create profitability? Banks, healthcare companies, technology, and insurance firms all gravitate toward blue, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ford, Pfizer, General Motors, Intel, and American Express. I’ve used it for medical offices, financial services, consulting firms, a food service business, and a water treatment company.

Does blue have the power to create profitability?

Blue stretches the spectrum

Paired with red and white, blue completes the American flag, as well as the flags of Norway, the United Kingdom and France. It’s a natural combo for Bank of America or any patriotic non-profit.

Then there is the distinctive, elegant Tiffany blue, hopefully on a gift box with something exciting inside. The blues that Facebook and Twitter use are brighter and bolder, imparting fun and creativity.

Blue is versatile. It ranges from indigo on the purple side to gem tones of teal and turquoise as it heads toward green. I’ll often use a stripe, block, or other bold shape in blue or another color on a business card or letterhead, to make it stand out in the pack.

Unlike pink or yellow, blue won’t fade against a white page, and stands out in print and in social media posts.

Elusive in creatures of the natural world

Did you know that only 8 to 10% of people in the world have blue eyes; compared to 27% in the U.S.? That’s the second most frequent color for eyes, certainly more common than once in a blue moon. That idiom developed in the 18th century to describe something so absurd that it would never happen: “I’ll agree with you when the moon turns blue.”

Blue is rarely visible in the skins or furs of other species. There are a few iridescent butterflies and birds, poisonous tropical frogs, fish, and snakes sporting this color. But consider the vibrant blue tones of the peacock, or the comical feet of the blue-footed booby of the Galapagos Islands. Their exclusivity makes them all the more interesting.

Because there are so few blue foods, it can be an unappetizing color, historically associated with food gone bad or moldy bread. However, today’s restaurants are using deep blues and turquoise as a luscious, playful background in tablecloths, china and wallcoverings.

In 2500 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians went to great lengths to make blue pigments from lapis lazuli and other substances. In their art, Egyptian Blue was reserved for gods, the pharaohs, and the crown of Queen Nefertiti. In Christian artwork, the Madonna’s dress is frequently shown in blue.

What isn’t blue?

  • Blue whales, despite their name, are actually grey.
  • Blueberries are purple.
  • Bluebells are a violet-blue flower.
  • Sky blue is only one of the sky’s many hues, particularly here in cloudy Pittsburgh where it’s often grey or white.

Baby blue was a color for girls in the early 1900s, switching to boys in the 1940s. Today, children wear many colors, but little boy blue is still the rule at the gender reveal party.

Feeling blue?

Still, blue isn’t the right corporate color for everyone. As a design professional, I suggest red to communicate excitement, passion, love, or danger. I often use red and yellow for food companies, and green to convey health, wellness, nature, and community. Sometimes I add touch of orange to a custom invitation to attract attention. I often use two colors, such as blue and gold, for visual communications that come alive, endure and influence action.

Thinking blue. Is it for you?

Color and its psychology is integral to how I create graphic design that commands more industry influence. If you have a project in mind and would like to know more, contact me. We’ll get the conversation started!

A parting shot in blue

If you haven’t yet overdosed on blue, you can visit Color Meanings and see 144 shades of blue, by name, including azure, cornflower, and sapphire blue, complete with the codes that designers use to reproduce them.

By Paulette Green and Alison Conte
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