Category Archives: Color

A Must-Own Reference For All Graphic Design Pros

How do I love thee, Graphics Master, 8th Edition? Let me count the ways. It’s a geeky kind of love, right up there with my love of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. This love affair began when I was a young designer in the late 80s. I was an in-house designer at Giorgio Beverly Hills and came across a copy (at the time it was Graphics Master 4) at work one day and immediately thought, Where have you been all my life? Oh how much simpler my work life would have been had I met you earlier.

This book is a comprehensive resource guide filled with virtually every piece of technical data a web and graphic design professional may need and is a must-own for young designers and seasoned professionals alike. Digital imaging, typography specs, measurements, color conversions, dot gain, you name it, GM8 has it.

I read this book like Scotty reads starship technical manuals. Perusing its pages tells me that an A-6 envelope fits into an A-7; I can only saddle stitch about 32 sheets before I need to switch to perfect bound; that Arial is Microsoft’s ugly knock-off of Helvetica (don’t ever use it); a roll fold brochure is a better self-mailer than an accordion fold; the RGB equivalent of a CMYK color I chose; the maximum pixel width of a standard web page. Please let me go on.

I still reference its voluminous archives on a regular basis for much-needed information. Make an investment in your design career and buy this book!

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Filed under Book Recommendations, Color, Graphic Design, Printing, Typography

The Power of Color in Brand Recognition

I was on vacation in Egypt years ago — long before the Arab Spring threw the country into chaos — and noticed a sign above a storefront in Cairo advertising products I instantly recognized. I don’t read Arabic, of course, and there was no English translation on the sign like one might see in a train station — the dominant language large and prominent and the alternate languages appearing below, much smaller, but always viewed with great appreciation by foreigners traveling abroad.

What amazed me was the power the brand colors possessed in communicating their identities without the use of language or even graphics. How was it possible for me to identify the sign as advertisements for, from left to right, Sprite, Fanta and Coca-Cola, without a moment’s hesitation? Did you guess the same thing? I first thought that maybe it was the logos, but there really aren’t any discernible logos for these products. It wasn’t words or even photos of the product, it was the use of color, solid, bold and used edge-to-edge with the “type” knocked out from the background. Consistent use of color schemes build brand recall. Don’t believe me? Look at the same photo below in black and white and tell me if it’s even recognizable.

Color is one of the most important components in creating brand identity. Color is the first element the mind sees and the last it forgets. Walk down the laundry soap aisle of the grocery store looking for Tide. Do you look for the logo? The bottle shape? No, you look for orange. It’s color first. In the Three Zones of Merchandising (12 ft., 3 ft. and 1 ft.), product recognition starts at 12 ft. away with color recognition (Tide, that’s orange). Next comes the 3 ft. Zone, which is product differentiation (I’m looking for the Tide with stain release). Finally, picking up the product, the 1 ft. Zone is for inspection of the label, if needed, to read ingredients, features, ounces, etc. This is why every brand spends millions of dollars owning its own unique color and reinforcing that color in the mind of the consumer. However, color choice should be appropriate to its product sector. Choose a novel color not usually associated with a product and consumers may reject it as inauthentic, cheap or too avant-garde. Read my article, A Cereal Package Design Blunder for an example of this.

As you flip through a magazine, go through your mail, or browse the grocery store aisle, take note of how brands use the power of color to differentiate themselves from the competition. Observe how color is used in the marketing of products and services and note how often you use brand color recognition when choosing those products and services.

To illustrate, most of you would recognize the brands pictured below, even though only a portion of the logo is visible. *

*Left to right: BP, Coca-Cola, UPS, Best Buy, Citibank, Starbucks and Pepsi.

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Filed under Brand Identity, Color

A Cereal Package Design Blunder

I have a confession to make. I sometimes shop at Big Lots. To borrow a quote from Henry Higgins, “It’s so deliciously low.” The odd mix of brand names, knock-offs and cheap Chinese-made products always make for a singular shopping experience.

The food aisles are my favorite. Sometimes they’re filled with delightful imported cookies, tea, and jam; sometimes with closeout products that, for whatever reason, didn’t make it at the grocery store. One item I found that sounded delicious but looked awful was this Nature’s Path Organic Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal.

I can’t help but think that the reason this cereal ended up as a Big Lots closeout was that the packaging was just so damn ugly. I mean, whose idea was that? The purple and yellow color scheme is a complete disconnect from the product category. In Rob Kaszubowski’s article, How To Use Color in Food Packaging, he explains that food packaging uses characteristic colors that are associated with the products inside. Orange juice containers aren’t blue, they’re orange. When thinking about cereal, one thinks of healthy, vitamin-enriched whole grain. Orange, yellow, red and brown are all colors typically associated with cereal and used predominately in most cereal packaging. This purple package has none of that association. If I covered up the type and spoon, I think you’d be hard pressed to guess what was inside.

Nature’s Path’s website says, “We’ve had a makeover. Our packaging has changed.” And not a moment too soon. I’m guessing that the failure, sorry, “lack of sell through” on many of their otherwise delicious cereals prompted some market research, focus groups and a search for a new package design team. My guess was correct when I read a recent article on Natural Products Marketplace’s website explaining that Nature’s Path’s previously inconsistent packaging designs prompted them to hire a renowned packaging research firm to make sure their new packaging and logo redesign would appeal to consumers. I think you would agree that the new design is a considerable improvement over the old.

It’s just too bad I won’t be seeing any of their cereal for a buck a box in the closeout aisle at Big Lots anymore. Nature’s Path couldn’t be happier.

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Filed under Brand Identity, Color, Package Design