Tag Archives: red

Can colour save lives?

I have worked in colour for pretty much all my working life. Though it has led to a rewarding and stimulating career (with a little bit of success) and though my passion for colour has never waned, I do sometimes wonder if i could have put my life to something more useful. Not that colour is not useful, far from it, but what I mean is something that could save lives. For example, perhaps I could have become a researcher looking into a cure for cancer. Compared with research like that, doesn’t colour sometimes seem frivolous and secondary?

So my Friday morning today was just cheered up a little when I came across an article in the Grundig about how colour-changing technology could revolutionise the medical industry. Apparently, 1.3 million people die each year because of unsafe injections, making the humble injection the most dangerous clinical procedure in the world. Part of the problem is that syringes are sometimes accidentally reused without sterilisation.


In response to this serious issue, David Swann at the University of Huddersfield – just down the road from where I work – developed a “behaviour-changing syringe” that warns when the needle is unsafe. Once opened the syringe turns bright red within sixty seconds. It’s not even expense. Apparently a standard syringe costs 2.5 pence whereas the “behaviour-changing syringe” costs 2.65 pence.

See the original article here.

Red taxi

What is it about taxis that makes colour so controversial?

In 2009 I posted about the situation in Derby (UK) where the council introduced a new rule saying that all official taxis should be yellow and then got into trouble when they said that one taxi driver’s taxi was not exactly the right shade of yellow. How did they specify the colour?

A couple of years later there was a major political storm over a proposal for Durham (also UK – ooops …. embarrassing!!!) to adopt white as the official taxi colour.

Then in 2012 I wrote about taxi colour in Beijing. Well, this was not exactly news but by now taxi colour was starting to interest me!!

But guess what? Today, another genuine taxi colour story. This time it is in USA. The D.C. Taxicab Commission’s One Color Panel recommended Wednesday that District taxis be coloured red. Apparently, “Red is a color that is strongly associated with the District, both among residents and visitors,” the colour panel said in a statement. “The Stars and Bars of the District flag are red. Each of the major sports franchises in the District has a shade of red as a prominent part of the uniform. In the area of transportation, both the District’s Circulator bus and the Capital BikeShare vehicles are red.” All taxis will be required to change to the new colour within five years.


people buy red when times are tough

According to a recent consumer report people in the UK are buying bright colours, particularly red, to cheer themselves up in these times of austerity. Apparently a third of all sales of women’s jeans are in colours other than blue.

According to Fiona Lambert, George Brand Director:

“In challenging times people purchase bright colours across both fashion and beauty to lift their spirits. Customers have told us they want to be bold and steer away from the “safe” option of black, and have been looking at affordable ways to lift their moods by buying coloured items.”

why I don’t like the colour wheel

There are many reasons why I don’t like colour wheels of the type shown below:

The first reason is because it perpetuates the myth that the subtractive primaries are red, yellow and blue whereas the fact is that red, yellow and blue produces a rather small gamut of colours. It is certainly not the best choice of subtractive primaries though it is taught as dogma in many art and design schools and throughout children’s education. The problem is that whenever two colours are mixed together there is saturation loss; that is, the resultant mixture ends up being more desaturated than the two components were. The saturation loss is greatest when mixing colours on the opposite side of the colour circle where the resultant mixture can be almost grey. However, for certain choices of primaries, the saturation loss is greater than for others. If red, yellow and blue are used as the primaries then of course it is possible to generate any other hue. However, there is significant saturation loss and the above colour wheel gives completely the wrong impression. It suggests that mixing blue and yellow together, for example, results in a really bright vivid green.

The reality of pigment mixing is much more like the triangular colour wheel shown below:

In the above diagram it can be seen that mixing together yellow and blue results in a really muddy dark green. The purple resulting from mixing blue and red is almost black!! Now it is possible to mix together a blue and a yellow to get a better green. For example, mixing a greenish blue with a yellow will give a much more vivid green. Mixing a bluish red with a greenish blue will result in a lovely purple. We have a name for a greenish blue and a blueish red – we call them cyan and magenta. A much better colour gamut is obtained if we start with the primaries, cyan, magenta and yellow.

Footnote: Some people may look at the triangular colour wheel and think that the reason the colours are dull is that the red, yellow, and blue primaries used are not ‘pure’ enough. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If it was possible to make really vivid and bright red and blue pigments then the resultant colour gamut would be even smaller. Fundamentally, red, yellow and blue just don’t make good subtractive primaries.

trademarking colour

In the US a colour can only be successfully trademarked (protected) if the colour is used as a brand identifier. If the colour is used in a functional way then the courts do not usually award protection since to do so would be to unfairly suppress competition. Catrin Turner, an expert in trade mark law at law firm Pinsent Masons has said:

“Colour of packaging, for example from yellow or silver for butter, to purple or red for chocolate, create powerful connections for consumers. Having the colour monopoly granted by a registered trade mark creates real practical barriers for competitors wanting to sit within a class of products which consumers expect to be coloured a particular way.”

In my colour branding lectures at the University of Leeds I illustrate this with several high-profile examples such as Cadbury purple.

In 2008 the Federal Courts in USA dismissed a claim by Cadbury Schweppes that a competitor, Darrell Lea, had used purple on their chocolate packaging to pass their products off as Cadbury chocolate. One of the issues here is that purple is used functionally on chocolate packaging since it conveys richness and opulence. Indeed, Darrell Lea have been using the colour purple with their chocolate products since 1927. It is an obvious choice. It was a costly loss for cadbury; five years in court and undoubtedly millions of dollars in legal costs. However, the law in these matters is complex and varies from country to country. In November 2011 a UK court allowed Cadbury protection for their purple (Pantone 2685C) despite protests from Nestlé. In the UK a colour can be trade marked only if the company can show that the colour has acquired distinctive character through use. Interestingly, Cadbury were only granted protection for certain products (chocolate bars, for example) rather than being granted exclusive use of the colour for all of their products.

I was interested to read another fascinating case this week – Christian Louboutin’s red, used as a brand identifier on the soles of its women’s shoes. Louboutin registered its shade of red with the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2008, and is now trying to prevent competitor Yves Saint Laurent from selling scarlet-soled shoes of its own. The fashion house says YSL’s copycat soles threaten to mislead the public. The district judge in the case ruled to deny Louboutin’s request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent YSL from selling the red-soled shoes from its 2011 collection, saying:

Because in the fashion industry color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions vital to robust competition, the court finds that Louboutin is unlikely to be able to prove that its red outsole brand is entitled to trademark protection, even if it has gained enough public recognition in the market to have acquired secondary meaning.


meaning of red

Today I found Karen Haller’s blog post on the meaning of red.

I liked the fact that she wrote about positive (warmth, excitement, energy) and negative (aggressive, confrontational) connotations of the colour. Karen argues that companies that use red as their primary colour are aggressive and energetic with a buzz about them. She gives examples of vodafone, coca cola, and virgin. Do you agree with her?

traffic lights for everyone

About 8% of men are colour blind. In the past I have written about how designers may not adequately take this into account effectively ignoring 4% of the population. I also wrote about how in Korea the problem of traffic lights for colour blind people was being addressed by using different shapes for the different colours.

Now I am interested to hear about a development from Japan – Professor Ochiai at Kyushu Sangyo University has developed a clever modification that is not noticed by people with normal colour vision but helps those who are colour blind. Before the introduction of LED lights people often could tell red from green by the difference in brightness. But LED lights are so bright that they look rather similar in brightness, and for someone with red-green colour blindness they may look identical. Professor Ochiai has added a blue cross to the red light which is very visible to colour-blind observers but can hardly be noticed by the rest of us. Very clever!!

The new lights are being tested in Fukuoka and are due to go on test in Tokyo soon.

red makes you eat less

Yesterday was the first lecture in my module (Colour: Art and Science) at the University of Leeds. In this module I look at colour from a multi-disciplinary perspective covering art, design, physics, history, philosophy, neuroscience, advertising and branding – all perspectives that are needed to understand colour or are strongly influenced by colour. Towards the end of the module I look at colour in branding and advertising and look at the effects that colours have on people’s behaviours and emotional states. One of the frustrating things about it though is that there is a lack of high-quality research about this. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is more nonesense written about colour (in books and on the internet) than almost any other topic I know!

Take the effect of colour on appetite. Lots of websites and books will tell you the same thing. Red stimulates appetite and this is one reason, for example, why it might be used in MacDonalds’ interior colour scheme. On the hand, blue inhibits your appetite; one reason for this is often stated as being that blue foods are quite rare and therefore we are predisposed to not want to eat blue foods (though what about blueberries!!). But when people write this, how many of them have actually done any research or read any research about these effects? That’s what I mean about nonesense; people write it because they heard it somewhere or imagined that it might be true. Last week I came across some research on the effect of colour on appetite. In this research, published in the Journal of Appetite, and jointly carried out by staff from the University of Basel (Switzerland) and the University of Mannheim (Germany) it was shown that participants drank less from a red cup than a blue cup and ate less snack food from a red plate than from a blue plate. In other words, the opposite of what is commonly believed. The point of this is that more serious research needs to be done to explore the effects that colour has; come and do a PhD in my lab and help to rectify that!!

Of course, the research referred to above does not necessarily mean that people would prefer red food to blue food or that people would eat less food in a restaurant decorated in red rather than blue. It is exactly that sort of extrapolation that is partly responsible for all of the misinformation about colour that is everywhere around us. I have to confess that I myself am sometimes responsible for this misinformation since I was talking to the students last year about the appetite-suppressant properties of blue. I need to stop now …. and go and do some more research.