Colour – the unsaid

When I was five, I recall asking my mum “Why was it black and white in the ‘olden days’?”

Of course I was hardly expected to know that it had always been colour, when much of the media from time’s past was quite monochromatic. But imagine what it would have been like if there had never been colour…. What a lifeless and dull existence. What would set subtle mood and tone needed in everyday life?
Colour is the unsaid. It invokes reaction and presumption – like the sadness of purple, the safety of green or the excitement of orange. But colour can also cast a fine line between meanings. For example, blue can be cool or sad, red can be energy or warning – yellow, happy or sickly – and green, fresh or rotten.
 Colour can also be used to make a statement or image in your mind for a point of difference. I know of a few small businesses around town like Blue Chilli, The Green Giraffe and The Red Dog.

Technology had allowed the introduction of colour to photos and film, magazines, televisions and finally newspapers. It was a new dimension to marketing strategies in an effort to get noticed in a myriad and confusion of product and service.
And colour defines the demographic of the consumer. Would you have a childcare centre in morbid tones of grey or navy blue? This calls for sunny yellow, sky blue, fresh green and lively red. A lawyer would not feel at home in a wash of primary colours and would seek the comforts of a calm and confident green balanced with a neutral grey, or the strength and muscle of vibrant red and black.

Graphic designers have a responsibility to understand their clients in an ever-changing environment and colour is the main variable. Whether it helps a logo or brochure, colour determines emotion and personality. It creates tone and compliments the subject. Say in a campaign of ads, leaflets or brochures – if the logo is orange and brown, taking a photo with these colours would confirm ownership and indicate consistency. And carry that through to vehicles, uniforms and other related items – just think of airlines, couriers, retail chains and trades. Of course, consistency is vitally important when thinking in advertising and marketing terms.
Designers must also be mindful of the cost of colour. Whilst it is not as important in a digital sense, traditional printing can become quite expensive and logos can work very efficiently in just a two colour format. There is also a limit to prevent a confusion of colour. A crowd of people are a mass of hues and it’s hard to be an individual. Five or six people in the area in the same colour stand out of that crowd.

Combinations moved with the times and every decade can be defined through the trends of colour. For example – we are seeing the resurgence of brown, mint, orange and sky blue in mainstream corporate and conservative business. This was common-place in the fifties for fashion, entertainment, hospitality and education.
The sixties were bathed in pastel yellow, blue and pink. It was young and new – light and airy and evident in the entertainment and food industries.

The seventies were tan, brown and grey-blue – just think of those old office suits. There were moments that the full spectrum was represented in all its glory – when thinking about surfing, skating and music cultures.

The nineties have just left us with bottle green, maroon, deep blue and everything representing earthy and grounded ideals – accounting, housing industries, lawyers and medical, hotel and hospitality industries.
 But do I detect a sniff of pink or peach and grey from the eighties making its return? I still recall those office suites and doctors’ clinics with their grey furniture and pink vertical blinds. I’m not sure if I am quite ready for that again…
We take advantage and often overlook the stimulating or calming effects of colour.

Imagine a world without colour and be mindful of what we have with us everyday. Take note of those purple flowers in a green field, the orange road cones on the grey bitumen and that lone red balloon in the clear, blue sky. Have you ever sat in traffic and watched that wash of red vehicles stream by you, that parade of white vans or been one of five silver sedans?

It’s these moments that I sit and feel for those who cannot see the hues… I am so thankful I was too young to come from the ‘olden days’.