Brazilian graphic designer Paula Rúpolo recently challenged our senses and our expectations by swapping the colors of competing brands’ logos. In her experiment, which she shared in a post called, The Brand Colour Swap: What’s in a Colour?, she paired well known companies with their competitors in a series of interactive graphics: mousing over each pair allows you to see their logos before and after the switch.

The results are enlightening, and provoke thought. Her observations about color can be applied to many other situations, such as shop exteriors and product design, where appearance must spark interest, trust and recognition.

The Brand Color Swap (coca-cola-pepsi) - Paola Rúpolo

Rúpolo starts with a question: “How would brands be perceived by us if they had a different colour scheme?”

While reminding us that colors have primal human meanings, and that some color meanings are quite different for different cultures, she presents an array of logo/color pairings that sometimes jar and other times seem to be no different at all.

What do these color tests mean for business and design?

I’m curious what conclusions you draw from this experiment. It turns out mine differ somewhat from Rúpolo’s.

One point I’d debate is her statement that graphic designers add colors too early when developing logos. “You learn that shape comes first,” she feels, “and once you nail it, you should make color tests and explore the possible readings you get from it.”

Having spent years beginning with shape in logo design, I’ve recently begun determining colors first (in some situations), to great effect. By choosing color first, we can sometimes tap its intuitive connections to touch the core identity of a business, its values and its vision. Knowing that first can inspire unexpected, powerful possibilities for a logo’s shape. I would emphasize that what I don’t mean is running with color preferences mentioned during the first couple of project meetings. In those situations, Rúpolo is spot on.

The Brand Color Swap (microsoft-apple) - Paola Rúpolo

My only other disagreement is with her comment that, “The strongest and most well known [brands] either keep a one colour identity (like Coke) or none at all (like the iconics Apple and Nike…)”

I would counter that black is a color, and both brands use it with impressive attention to detail! Have a look at the Nike site, where black both anchors and dominates the brand experience.

Beyond that, however, I highly recommend having a look at the whole collection of color swaps in the original post. In particular, I challenge you to spend a little longer with switches of similar colors. See if you can detect subtler, more intuitive reactions in yourself to logos that are “both blue”. You can also leave requests in the comments for future swaps you’d like to see!

The Brand Color Swap (facebook-twitter) - Paola Rúpolo

Thanks to the Fastcodesign blog for bringing my attention to this cool project.

3 Responses to Designing to sell: does color always reach us first?

  1. […] Another major consideration when deciding on a color scheme is the look of current competitors. Can you imagine the confusion of a world in which Apple and Microsoft branded themselves with the same colors? Or Coke and Pepsi? […]

  2. Penina says:

    Thanks for weighing in, Julie!

  3. julie says:

    I agree in principle to logo design first, color second. Using “color swaps” don’t cut it for me. It’s seems over analyzed… :)

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