Color is perceived on three levels and they work together!

Physiological/subliminal: how our bodies reflexively respond to color; our subliminal associations of color based on our first interactions with color in nature reside in our collective unconscious.

Cultural: the conventions of color usage throughout time in specific cultures.


Marketing context: i.e., green in “warm beverages” means decaf … or in sodas it can be a flavor cue for lemon-lime.

Red is the most extroverted color in the spectrum, representing vitality, life and energy. People want to eat and drink more in the presence of red (i.e., Campbell’s Soup is a good example). In American culture, and in an American marketing context, red represents strength and leadership. The perceptual set of “red brands” includes: Target, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Band-Aid, and Jell-O, market leaders all and “representatives” of classic, mainstream Americana.

Red IS the color to “own” or to use as an umbrella ‘owning color’ strategy because of its status as the most dominant color of all. It’s always a good idea for a brand to try to “own” a color in people’s minds (e.g. Immediate consumer associations of a color with the brand … i.e., Kodak and yellow, Duracell and copper/black) since people remember color first in the hierarchy of visual memory.

Owning a color affords instant recognition and distinction by customers in our highly saturated, complex and competitive brand landscape.

Building Brand, Delivering Happiness

I just finished reading Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseith, CEO,, Inc.

This IS a business book.

The first half of the book is a great story on who Tony is and how Zappos came to be. His genius is awe-inspiring and to be greatly admired. At such a young age, he offers many life-living nuggets which makes it not only a business book, but a life skills book as well.

But, most importantly, this book is about branding. Yes. It is about delivering happiness – through your company brand AND through living your life.

The book has a number of levels and many revelations. The author speaks of building a Tribe. He realized that he felt the happiest when he was in his “Tribe” where he gets a sense of love and belonging. Once he realized that Tribes are key, his intent became to build a Tribe with Zappos. Building a tribe (or a culture) is building a brand. Brand advocates are those who work there and those who buy there. They all become one “Zappos people” with the unified goal of delivering happiness to everyone. They all become brand ambassadors within the organization and in the outside world.

Branding is no longer a marketing or a PR function, but a natural organic process which grows from the culture. Amazing! Inside and outside of the business: Live it. Be it. Think it. A unified goal. The author has become a master at how and why we humans do what we do, which is key to building a brand that humans embrace.

Zappos is one of those companys that we should model for brand building behavior.

The author says, “It is really important to have core values that can be committed to. And if you’re willing to hire and fire based on them, you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”

For me, this brings a surprisingly refreshing approach to branding. Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

Delivering Happiness

Best Design Practices

JCPenney’s recently launched new logo uses the lowercase letters “jcp” inside their signature box.

JCPenney says the “fresh, bold design is the most meaningful update to the Company’s logo in 40 years.” “We’ve made significant progress transforming our Company over the last several years by infusing great style into our assortments, delivering world-class customer service, and introducing new and innovative retail technologies that have made JCPenney a retail leader in the digital age,” said Chairman-CEO Mike Ullman. “Our new logo reflects the modern retailer we’ve become while continuing to honor our rich legacy.”

JCP says its new logo is well vetted and should not create the furvor the GAP logo did (which required some significant backpedaling). JCP accepted more than 200 redesigned logo submissions from company employees, design agencies and University of Cincinnati and Rhode Island School of Design Art Program students. The winning design was created by a University of Cincinnati graphic design student.

The logo was introduced in T.V. ads during the Academy Awards. I noticed the new logo right away but not necessarily for a good reason. I am a purist when it comes to graphic design, which is why it glaringly jumped out at me. There it was in all its glory in front of millions of people. The logo, run vertically, without the box (shown on the left below).

We read from top to bottom, so when type runs vertically it should be readable from the top down. It is as simple as that! When you see type running vertically and it runs bottom to top, it is wrong. I realize this is done frequently but it doesn’t mean it is correct.

Why would such a significant consumer brand not know “best design practices”? Why aren’t design schools teaching “best design practices” and the better question is, why don’t design agencies know this? Let’s not lose sight of these details. They convey a level of visual design professionalism and a respect for the viewing audience. Do a 180!

Color as a catalyst.

As a general rule, it doesn’t matter who your target audience is, everyone responds to bright colors.

A common myth: Green is a great color for financial services because it implies money and red is not because it implies “being in the red”.

The best contrast color combination for readability in advertising was discovered long ago by Western Union in the heyday of the telegraph and telegram–black letters on a yellow background.

Visual Balance – A powerful design tool

Designers use symmetry, color, value, shape and position to balance and neatly order objects.

Balance with Symmetry

Butterflies, maple leaves, and snowflakes can be evenly divided down the center. They are symmetrically balanced. Humans are attracted to symmetrical designs partially because our own bodies are symmetrical.

A designer can neatly order images or blocks of text, distributing equal portions along both sides of an invisible vertical axis. Human elements, such as a face or body placed symmetrically, can help us make an emotional connection.

Balance with Color

A small area of color can balance a much larger neutral area. Warm colors carry more weight visually than cool colors. Oranges and reds jump out at us. Blues and greens tend to recede. So a large area of a cool color can be used to balance a small area of a warm color.

Balance by Value

The contrast of light and dark attracts our attention. Black against white creates a strong contrast. A contrast of values on each side of a design creates so much eye interest that a tension is created between the sides. The eye moves from one to the other in an attempt to pull the two elements together.

Balance by Shape and Position

A large, simple shape (or image or text area) can be balanced by smaller, more complex elements. The larger shape generally attracts attention to the overall composition. The smaller elements are viewed as secondary. The farther an object is from the center of the page, the more visual weight it suggests. A single, very small element can counterbalance a large one (or group) if placed at the far side of a design.

For example, although this logo is no match for the large image on its own, its position in the outermost edge of the composition levels this design.

Steelers Logo

A bit of logo trivia in honor of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the big game. You Steelers fans probably know this already.

The Steelers logo is based on the Steelmark logo belonging to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Created by U.S. Steel Corp.

The diamonds on the Steelers’ helmets are hypocycloids. Who knew?

Apparently, there are two meanings behind the yellow, orange, and blue. The logo originated from U.S. Steel, who interpreted the colors as meaning: yellow lightens your work, orange brightens your leisure, and blue widens your world. But the official meaning adopted by the Steelers is that yellow represents coal, orange is iron ore, and blue is scrap metal—the three elements used to make steel.

The Steelers are the only NFL team to wear their logo on only one side of their helmets – the right side. This was supposed to be so they could try out the look of the logo on an all-gold helmet.

In 1962 the team finished 9-5 and became the winningest team in franchise history at the time. They went on to finish second in the Eastern Conference and qualified for the Playoff Bowl. In an effort to do something momentous for their first postseason game, they changed the color of their helmets from gold to black. This color change highlighted the logo better.

Because of the interest generated by having the logo on only one side of their helmets and because of their team’s new success, the Steelers decided to leave it that way permanently.

Today’s helmet reflects the way the logo was originally applied and it has never been changed.

More Steelers’ logo history.

And Steelers fans can find lots more useful trivia on One 4 The Other Thumb.

Design based on a concept

Often people have a very literal idea about what they want others to see in their visual(s). It is what has meaning to them in relation to how they themselves see something, not in relation to what their customer sees and will understand. When we talk about a design (or a brand) meaning something or having significance beyond its obvious face value, it is the conceptual meaning we are talking about that is conveyed through the visual.

Assuming a client needs a visual that has meaning to its purpose…. How are designs done based on a concept? They clearly come from allowing the client to reveal the concept. Begin by engaging the client. They will tell you what you need to know if you *LISTEN*.

Mad Men fans will appreciate Roger Sterling’s wisdom when he said, “It’s about listening to people and never saying what’s really on your mind.” Roger is a wise man. I appreciate his wit and wisdom.

Help your client open up by asking questions related to their ideas about the company and specifically the project and its intent. The better you know the client, the easier this is. Make an effort to get to know them and observe how they communicate.

This brings to mind Roger Sterling’s wisdom again, “I don’t know if anyone ever told you that half the time this business comes down to: “I don’t like that guy.””

Listen listen listen. Look for the concept in the descriptive words they use. Find out what the clients own customers say.

Once the concept is clearly distilled, defined or identified, the design solution is not far behind. It is all in interpretation so to be sure you are receiving this idea clearly, repeat it back to the client. “So when you say…. Is this like….. ? Or do you mean….?”

For me it is like a lightning bolt hits me. It comes from the client and it’s exciting when the realization occurs that this is a viable core concept we should build on.

If the project involves a group, it is the same thing, except with more people. If they dont see eye to eye, it is your job to define the commonalities they do agree on and build a concept around them.

You might have a great idea you want to try or you may want to design something to win awards and accolades but this is not necessarily the way to achieve a positive experience for your client.

As we like to say, we see it when you say it.

Fun with color

As a requirement of our bachelors’ degrees in graphic design, we were taught the color course based on Josef Albers’ color interaction theories. (“The Interaction of Color” by Joseph Albers.)

This course conditioned us to recognize visual values, not only in color, but also in other art and design. Quoting Josef Albers:

We worked with special color paper called Color-Aid, which we purchased in 314-sheet packs of 6 x 9 inches. Using Color-Aid as opposed to paints allowed us to focus totally on precise color, hue and intensity. We realized early on that no two people see color exactly the same way. Quoting Josef Albers:

The course helped us develop sensitivity to color and composition, further developing our visual skills.

The color used for the two quotes above illustrates one color interaction theory. Three colors, yellow, blue and green, appear as four. The green appears to be two different colors, when in fact, it is the same color. Color on color can create an optical illusion.

As Josef Albers said:

A Visual Brand Refresh For Starbucks

A great logo example of what you can do once visual brand awareness is built! Starbucks copies a page from well known companies such as Nike Inc. and Apple Inc., who have easily built enough visual brand awareness to successfully drop the words from their logos years ago. The words are no longer needed for us to recognize this visual icon as none other than Starbucks. It can stand alone and speaks for itself. This is achieved by consistent and repetitive use of the visual brand over time. This brand refresh is simple, contemporary, memorable and close enough to the existing logo that it avoids losing any visual brand recognition.

Starbucks has introduced the logo internally and plans to bring it to stores in March which coincides with its 40th anniversary.

In its 40-year history Starbucks has had 4 logos variations. The first update in 1987 took the original brown logo to a green. As shown below, refined again in 1992 and now in 2011.

This refresh, after 9 years, clearly strengthens the Starbucks visual brand.

Logos – Concepts, Not Clones

The Rio 2016 Olympic logo is chosen.

Brazil’s Tatíl Design created the logo, and is to be revered for its good design. It is very Brazilian, with its three interlocking figures joyously dancing. 140 design firms entered the competitive process to design the logo. A team of 15 national and international members of the Rio 2016 organizing committee made the final decision on this chosen design below.

People will always find a similar logo design or something to criticize about a design, even if the design is valid and top knotch. Public criticism sites the Telluride Foundation’s logo as the master for the Rio 2016 design.

There is little reason to find similarity between the two. Both logos depict figures embraced hand-in-hand dancing in a flowing motion with the vibrant use of color. But the similarities end there. Rio has a more unique fluidity of movement as one continuous unit.

It is not surprising that Tatíl Design who created the logo said they had never seen Telluride Foundation’s logo. Designers always strive for a unique design. It just isn’t in a true designers nature to even want to copy an existing design. We can be inspired by an existing design, yes. Understanding the process helps explain how this is not typical.

Design is a cognitive process which comes from the synthesis of defined distilled concepts and parameters. Organizers say the Rio 2016 logo is based on four concepts: contagious energy, harmonious diversity, exuberant nature and the Olympic spirit.

Designers know that the end product could have similarities to things they may never have seen. There are so many visual representations in the universe (although certainly many more yet to be discovered) that one can easily display similarities to others. It is “how far the similarities go” that is important. This certainly does not qualify for copyright infringement. It is not a clone.

Similarities have also been found in the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition. Interestingly enough, the Taipei International Flora Expo’s logo is described as follows: It is based on five simple designed petals. Each petal uses a pattern of moving lines combine in abstract images of dancing people, which represents human activities. Colors of blue, green, red, orange and purple represents the 5 continents around the world. It is the outcome of a 2 months long competition which includes a total of 1669 entries from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Europe, Japan and the U.S designers. The organizing committee finally decided on the logo that best shows the idea of human celebrations and shared values with bright colors displaying cheerful atmosphere to represent the Expo.

Similarities? How far can we take this? Maybe some people just don’t see the fine nuances of art and design.

Find a much more comprehensive conceptual overview at the Creative Review.