Blue and green the colours of choice in new media

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry. Nothing marks the visual territory of a category more immediately than how it uses colour. Outside of a...

The following column examines and critiques commercial design, as well as provides commentary on current issues and trends in the design industry.

Nothing marks the visual territory of a category more immediately than how it uses colour. Outside of a very few universal patterns, such as the fact that red and blue are the most oft-used colours in branding (and consistently identified as the two favourite colours – in equal measure – of North American consumers), the nature of a product category dictates how it will use colour to mark itself.

One of my favourites has always been laundry detergent. As a category, it is fluorescent and muscular. It’s all about using heavy chemistry to kick the crap out of the dirt in your clothes. So it uses the shock value of orange, yellow, red, lime green and bright blue, and renders its brands in extra bold, dark blue, sans serif typography, set in italic and on an angle, as if to say, ‘Caution: Men at Work!’

For a long time, the colours that defined technology companies were blue and grey. IBM set the tone and everybody else followed suit, until a company called Lucent came along and heated things up with a red ring of fire. But now that technology is focused on the Internet, the chromatic scale has shifted in a new direction: blue and green.

The preference is for a combination of royal blue and pea green. Brands like third age, Trust-e, E*Trade,, liveperson,, accompany, mentor:labs,, pandesic and marimba all use the same colour combination. Since the whole category is still in the incubation stage, and since the cycles in the world of ‘clicks’ are reputed to be a quarter of what they are in the world of ‘bricks’, it will be interesting to see whether or not this colour choice is going to last.

The Internet’s gestation as a commercial medium is about four or five years old. Predictions are that by 2003, the business-to-business e-commerce trade will have matured, meaning that the end-to-end infrastructure for e-commerce transactions will be firmly established. At that point, the major players in e-commerce will have been sorted out, and the legacy bricks-and-mortar retailers will have become fully integrated. So we’re looking at an incubation period of about eight or nine years. (Compare that to the incubation period for the print medium, which lasted from the printing of Gutenberg’s massive bible in 1455 to the pocket-sized publication of Virgil’s Georgics by Aldus Manutius in 1514).

So it won’t take long to see what part of the rainbow the Web will own. For now, though, it is interesting to speculate as to why blue and green have taken the lead. In the world of package design, green has traditionally been a line extension colour. Perhaps because it is psychologically calming, it has never been considered aggressive enough to be associated with leadership. Green is strongly associated with nature and so shows up in the gardening category. Its association with the environment has been reinforced by organizations such as Greenpeace and Germany’s Green Party. Green is also a health care colour.

These associations place green outside the psychological spectrum of most leading brands, which try to be as invasive as possible. But the Internet is nothing if not aggressive and in-your-face, so why does such a ‘neutral’ colour fare so well there? For one, it is almost always used with a contrasting blue, which has the effect of making it look warmer. Secondly, since it is a pea-green, it has a high degree of yellow in it, which makes it even warmer yet. And thirdly, the Internet is the new kid in town, a bit irreverent and not a little cocky, and still in the throes of self-definition. So if the legacy brands are primary colours, the brands of the new medium choose to use secondary colours. This is borne out by the prevalence, behind blue and green, of the colour orange: Net:)effect,,, MyWay,, and all use orange in a bid to stand out.

Business-to-business e-commerce providers have, for the most part, adhered to the traditional red/blue rules. Because they serve enterprise customers, they must appear to be more conservative and serious than some of the consumer brands mentioned above. Some things never change. But even in this category, instability is still evident as brands rapidly reposition themselves and change their images to match. It is not unusual for these brands to rename, reposition and relaunch themselves in a matter of months in order to leverage market perceptions.

Colour has a way of reflecting the energy of the age. The energy of the Internet age is as unstable as gasoline in the presence of flames. Maybe green and blue are just a natural calming response to our instinctive fear of technological fire.

Will Novosedlik is a principal of Russell Inc. in Toronto. Russell Inc. builds brands with differentiation and emotional appeal for top-tier companies in both Canada and the u.s. Please direct correspondence by e-mail to or by phone at (416) 591-6677.

In Brief: The Garden picks CDs to take on daily creative leadership

Plus, Naked names two new leaders of its own and Digital Ethos comes to Canada.

The Garden promotes two creative directors

ACDs Lindsay Eady and Francheska Galloway-Davis have taken over responsibility for day-to-day creative leadership at The Garden after being promoted to creative director roles.

The pair will also help develop the agency’s creative talent, formalizing mentorship and leadership activities they have been doing since joining the agency four and three years ago, respectively. In addition to creating the agency’s internship program, the pair have worked on campaigns for Coinsquare, FitTrack and “The Coke Challenge” campaign for DanceSafe.

Eady and Galloway-Davis will continue to report to The Garden’s co-founder and chief creative officer Shane Ogilvie, who is stepping back from daily creative duties to a more high-level strategic role, allowing him to focus on client relationships and business growth.

Naked Creative Consultancy names new creative and strategy leadership

Toronto’s Naked Creative Consultancy has hired Yasmin Sahni as its new creative director. She is taking over creative leadership from David Kenyon, who has been in the role for 10 years and is moving into a new role as director of strategy, leading the discipline at the agency.

Sahni is coming off of three years as VP and ECD at GTB’s Toronto office, where she managed all the retail, social and service creative for Ford Canada. She previously managed both Vice Media and Vice’s in-house ad agency Virtue.

Peter Shier, president of Naked, says Sahni’s hiring adds to its creative bench and capabilities, as well as a track record of mentorship, a priority for the company. Meanwhile, Kenyon’s move to the strategy side, he says, makes sense because of his deep knowledge of its clients, which have included Ancestry and The Globe and Mail.

Digital Ethos opens a Toronto office

U.K. digital agency Digital Ethos is pursuing new growth opportunities in North America by opening a new office in Toronto.

Though it didn’t disclose them, the agency has begun serving a number of North American clients, and CEO/founder Luke Tobin says the “time was right to invest in a more formal and actual presence in the area.” whose services include design, SEO, pay-per-click, social media, influencer and PR,

This year, the agency’s growth has also allowed it to open an office in Hamburg, Germany, though it also has remote staff working in countries around the world.

Moray Hickes was the company’s first North American hire as VP of sales, tasked with business development in the region.