Category Archives: Graphic Standards

Brands and Color:number seven in a series

Still going around the color wheel, we’ve finally come to primary color, red.

This is a color of mixed messages and associations.

First, red is powerful and aggressive. It tends to dominate other colors in combinations. We all know it’s a warm color. And at its most intense, red is associated with hot. It invokes excitement and action.

Red is the color of blood and violence. But it’s also the color of romance and valentines. And Santa Claus wears a red suit. It’s the traditional color of fire engines, rescue efforts and traffic signs/signals meaning “stop”. In nature, healthful fruits and veggies are often red.

 Apple red

We speak positively of red-letter days and the red carpet treatment. Negative expressions include: seeing red, being in the red, red tape, a red flag and a red herring.

Red’s cultural meanings and associations vary worldwide but are generally positive. Brides in Hindu, Islamic and Chinese cultures usually wear red. In India, a red mark on the forehead purports to attract good luck. Red in Singapore symbolizes joy. It is associated with good fortune in China.

Because red is vibrant and powerful, a little dab might be all you need to convey a message of action and vitality.

Green is the complement color to red. Orange and purple are analogous to red. Names for different shades and hues of red include scarlet, crimson, maroon, burgundy, ruby, flame, vermillion.

If you are looking to associate your product/service/organization/event with a festive, forceful, hot, bold, and/or dynamic color, red would be first choice. Brands associated with sports, energy supply and youth often look to red.

Logos using red

Those people who prefer red are usually impulsive, athletic and sexy. They are optimists and passionate about their activities. They want to experience life to its fullest, even though they will have swings in their emotional natures.

Although red is a popular color for branding, there are some darker shades that are not used as often that will also impart the associations provided by bright reds.

Martin Jelsema


BRANDING & COLOR – Number six in a series

Back to blogging after a week of just “getting away”. This time I’m continuing the series about color in branding.

This blog’s subject: purple.

Or is it lavender?

Or perhaps violet?

Like the other primary and secondary colors – the purple family belongs to the secondary class – there are various shades and mixtures and intensities that can be included in any particular class. So I’ll discuss all itsdesignations under the class called purple.

Four shades of purple for branding

As a secondary color, purple and it’s mates reside between red and blue on the color wheel. Therefore, it is a little “schitzo” with attributes both hot and cool. Often, especially on the web, it’s difficult to differentiate a deep purple from a dark blue, or a violet from a wine-red hue.

Purple is traditionally associated with nobility, spirituality and magic. There’s also a suggestion of prosperity.

In researching for this blog, I was surprised that fewer companies had adopted purple as a primary corporate color. There are few negative connotations. Just purple prose and purple haze show up. But there is an association with death in Latin America.

The only brand I’ve discovered that actually revels in purple is the “purple pill”, Nexium.

 Purple logos for Starter, Nexium, Diners Club, Hobie, Fiat and Sun Microsystems.

Another user of purple is FedEx and I’ll comment more about that. Initially the FedEx colors were purple and orange. Today that combination refers to its overnight air express service. For their corporate colors they’re substituted gray for orange. Then for their ground service, it’s lime green and purple, for “Trade Network” it’s gold and purple, and for the FedEx/Kinko stores, purple and sky blue. As you can see below, the “Fed” word is always purple and the logo retains its typeface in each variation. Well done, FedEx.

An array of FedEx logos

As already stated, purple imparts dignity or nobility in its darker tones. When more toward lavender, the color is feminine and fashion oriented.

Across the wheel from purple is the primary color, yellow. As it’s complement, they make a contrasting and complementary pair. The analogous colors are red and blue.

Those people who favor purple are likely to be creatives or eccentrics. They enjoy being unique from others and can be temperamental. They are also sensitive and observant, and enjoy fantasy. I’ve read that comic books with purple on their covers sell better than those with another color dominating.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a color for your brand that hasn’t been already used to adnauseam, you might explore purple and its associates, violet, mauve, lavender, lilac, orchid, plum, et al.

Martin Jelsema

Branding and Color– Number 5 in a Series

This week, the subject is blue. Blue has a lot going for it.

It’s a primary color with all kinds of tones and hues.

They range from an almost-black navy to the lightest of pastels, from bright sky-blue to dignified royal blue, from greenish turquoise to purplish ultramarine.

 blue sky

Basically, blue is a cool color. That means it’s complementary to the hot secondary color, orange. Analogous colors are green and purple.

Blue is the most-liked color. It has a universality of good associations beginning with sky and water. Yet, it is not a color associated with food, with the exception of blueberries. Blue has a masculine orientation as well.

Large companies seem partial to blue as a company color – IBM, AT&T, GE and GM among them. And of course there’s the Tiffany blue box.

array of blues in branding 

In general, blue imparts “good vibes”. It has come to represent importance, intelligence, stability, harmony, peace, confidence, masculinity, power, trust and serenity.

The word “blue” turns up in phrases that are generally positive: true blue, blue ribbon, blue skies, blue book.

Blue can also be associated with sadness and depression. Feeling blue and singing the blues come to mind.

In its lighter, brighter tones, blue imparts a freshness and a casualness. Blue-gray is a modern, formal color. The dark blues can conger formal and classic associations.

People whose favorite color is blue generally have a need for calm. They are usually gentle and sensitive and tend to form strong attachments and relationships. They display a high sense of responsibility, trust and confidence.

Medium and dark blues can be combined with warm and hot colors for contrast and tension. When dark blues are matched to dark colors like maroon, black and gold, a somber, dignified association is created. Lighter tones combined with earth tones like tan imparts a nature-oriented association. Mid-toned blues are mutually compatible with contrasting and monochromatic colors, and offers great flexibility.

No wonder it’s the most popular color.

Martin Jelsema

Color and Branding – Number 4 in a series.

Today let’s look at green.

As with all color descriptions, green shares some seeming contradictory characteristics depending upon context, culture and color attributes.

First, we mostly think of green associated with nature – green forests, fields, grass and veggies.


But there’s also the association, in the United States, with money. And on the negative side, envy and greed – the green-eyed-monster – and inexperienced – greenhorn – are also green associations. 

Today, the word “green” has positive environmental connotations. Except, perhaps when associated with the Greenpeace organization.

There are numerous shades of green: forest, olive, pea, lime, jade, sage, sea come to mind.

In the Color Harmony Handbook, green is labeled “fresh”. Because it is a combination of the warm, sunny yellow and the cool, peaceful blue, it is a “balanced” color that’s easy to live with and can find a home in either hot or cool palettes. The Handbook also suggests that green recedes when combined with other colors, making them stand out with more authority. Thus, green may be selected as a second, background color for a predominantly red, its complement.


When combined with blue, green really connotes nature, warm months, and new beginnings. Dark green combined with red certainly brings Christmas to mind. Again, dark green, this time with a deep blue or a rich gold, can convey a prosperity and dignity. And with deep browns, grays and other earth tones, green imparts a mature and resolute impression to the palette. When pale greens are used with other pastels, a feminine, fresh look is achieved.

If not the most versatile, green certainly ranks high on that scale.

Color & Branding –Number 3 in a series

Yellow is today’s topic as a prime color for branding applications. In its most pure, yellow is a primary color whose complement is purple and its neighbors are yellow-green and orange.

The color has two main attributes: it denotes a cheerful countenance, and it provides an effective contrast to black and deep blue. Thus, yellow was a “natural” for the “smiley face”, as it is for “yield” signs and high-lighters.

Yellow daffodil

Research, according to Pantone which is the company responsible for standardizing colors for print, digital and textile applications through their color guides, suggests a yellow background and black type provides the best legibility combination. They also claim yellow to be the first color the human eye gravitates to when the entire spectrum is presented.

Other positive attributes of yellow include caution, intelligence, joy, and Springtime. Like every color, there are possible negative associations with the color. And though I don’t recognize these as associated with yellow, according to Jason OConnor writing for , laziness, criticism and cynicism are yellow attributes. I know cowardness to be associated – someone with a “yellow streak” – but not the others. Then we’re sometimes stuck with a “lemon”.

One problem with yellow: unless it’s a darker gold shade, it does not stand out on a white background. It requires additional colors, specifically dark colors, to make a strong impression. In that environment, yellow provides a spark.

The Color Harmony Workbook suggests that yellow creates “motion”, that it is particularly applicable for sports-related brands. The Workbook also states that, “Yellow is cheerful, uplifting and spirited; it stimulates communication, intellect and attention to detail.

Thus, in a logo or for a trade dress palette, yellow with a dark color provides contrast, “vibrates” and suggests “action”. But all by itself, it tends to fade into neutral backgrounds. Yellow best works as background or as an accent.

Here are some who have adapted yellow into their brand.

 Yellow logos and trade-dress
Martin Jelsema

Good logo design means legibility first.

You can find quite a few hints and tips concerning logo design on the branding and graphics sites on the Internet. Many are helpful and worth considering.

But I don’t remember anyone addressing the shape of a logo.

I believe proportion is crucial.

It can really make a difference in legibility, particularly when logos need to be reproduced in a small size. Also, when a group of co-sponsors are listed, either on a web site or a print publication, their logos need to be reproduced with a uniform height and/or width. And so you see some logos that stand out and some you’ll be hard put to read at all. As the sample array demonstrates, square and circular logos don’t lend themselves to the co-op array at all.

 an array of logos

There are four branding elements that need to be considered here: name, font, symbol and tagline. For smaller logo reproduction, I’ll usually recommend the tagline be eliminated since it can’t be read anyway.

In designing logos, you’ll face your first problem if your name is a long, three-word descriptive group of words. Either you compromise the name (probably turning it into three initials) or you stack the words. Neither is a perfect solution.

This brings us to the second element, the font. Quite often a designer will resort to a condensed font if they’re presented with a longer name. But when shrunk, condensed type becomes illegible, particularly if it’s also bold face. Also, many designers are so intrigued with an unusual font “look” they’ll sacrifice legibility for the novel.

Finally, the symbol: legitimately, it might stand-alone in place of the name in logo form. But before that happens, it must become associated with the company and its name. One of the problems with using both a symbol and name together is the placement. If the symbol is placed to the left or right of the name, the entire line becomes too long and doesn’t standout when arranged with other logos. On the other hand, if the symbol is placed atop the name, when reduced to a standard height with other logos, it becomes far too small.

 Four approaches to the problem

So I suggest that when evaluating logo designs you ask the designer to show you how the recommended designs will occupy a one-inch by half-an-inch space. Or indeed, just download the array of logos here and ask her or him to overlay the recommended design on top of one.

Martin Jelsema

Can a company “own” green?

If you’re following this blog, you know I initiated a series of blogs about color in branding.

Now, color has made the business section of the Denver Post.

Al Lewis of the Denver Post ( has written about an upcoming case which should interest everyone involved in branding.

It seems that the giant lawn and garden products company, Scotts Miracle-Gro doesn’t want a competitor to use green in their trade dress. They’re suing TerraCycle to cease and desist from using green and yellow in their packaging and “confusing the market” with similar packaging to Miracle-Gro.

The packaging is not at all similar to my eyes.

I’d download pictures of the respective packages and put them side-by-side except the TerraCycle has used a “gimmick” to demonstrate their environmentally-friendly packaging – used, recycled plastic pop bottles – and they show it’s origin by morphing the TerrCycle label into a pop bottle as you “mouse over”. Anyway, here are the corporate urls of each so you can make your own comparisons.

The point is there is no similarity in type, design, shape or name of the competing products. The only similarity is the color combinations. So can Scotts “own” those generic colors. I’m pretty sure the Pantone numbers are not identical, and they aren’t used in the same proportions.

Now to be as forthcoming as I can, there’s another issue in Scott’s suite – they take issue with the TerraCycle claim that their Worm Poop (yes, that’s what they call their product, probably because of its main ingredient) is superior to the “leading synthetic plant food”. That’s another debate.

Al quotes Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, who thinks “this is more about the fact that we’re taking shelf space at Home Depot and Wal-Mart…than customer confusion”.

I agree. So does a trademark expert and law professor Wendy Seltzer who Al quotes as saying, “No one is allowed to monopolize necessary colors.”  She contributes to an informative intellectual properties blog branders should find valuable at

Although the article didn’t define “necessary colors”, I suspect that means primary, secondary and tertiary colors; the web-safe colors of the internet and the pms colors of the Pantone palettes.

I’ll just bet the packaging issue between TerraCycle and Scotts will never come to trial. At least I hope not.

Martin Jelsema

Color & Branding – Number 2 in a series

Let’s start with a secondary color instead of a primary, just to keep us on our toes.


Orange is the color this week.

Incidentally, the major source of information on individual colors I’ve used to formulate these blog entries is About:Desktop Publishing. You can access the entire color spectrum at

It’s interesting that when I went to the page on “orange” on the website, the Google ads were all about the fruit, oranges. This just serves as a reminder that many words may have more than one meaning or association. In the evaluation phase of developing a brand name, be sure to take that into account.

Anyway, back to the color orange in branding.

Major attributes of orange are warmth, energy and cheerfulness. First of all, it’s a warm color on the spectrum, with red on one side and yellow on the other. It’s also the color associated with our most pervasive icon, the sun.

Orange demands attention but doesn’t scream for it. Thus, though it can be vibrant, it can be a background or secondary color in some palettes. Think about a box of Tide. Yet, as an accent with a complementary or contrasting color, orange will stand out and make a statement. It is not frail.

Examples of orange in branding

Because it’s energetic, and because it’s the color of the very healthful orange fruit, orange can be associated with good health, particularly when combined with a solid green.

Though it’s vibrant, orange also has a “dark side”. It’s the color of falling, (that is dead) leaves, so it’s associated with fall and Halloween. It’s the color chosen by the Fightin’ Gators of of the UofF, my almamater and the bane of the rest of the SEC. But orange is predominantly a cheerful, friendly color.

Medium blue is the color diametrically across the color wheel from orange blue. That makes for a contrasting combination in tension but also provides a pleasing combination. When combined with red and/or yellow, you have analogous colors that form an exciting, warm and attention-getting palette.

And FedEx found the combination of purple and orange to be both exciting and unique. Home Depot’s logo and trade dress is predominantly orange, using white as its partner.

Orange can be associated with the tropics, summer, friendliness, good health, warmth and excitement.

According to Mitch Meyerson, a psychologist associated with Jay Conrad Levinson,s Guerrilla Marketing empire, orange appeals to intellectuals, and it’s a good choice to accent business-to-business communications.

Looks like we started this series off with a winner.

Martin Jelsema