In a recent experiment, Brazilian graphic designer Paula Rupolo exchanged the color schemes of competing brands’ logos. Here, Yahoo gets a rainbow makeover and Google goes goth in purple and black. “Google’s colors are very iconic, perhaps more than its typography,” says Rupolo.

The results have much to reveal about the power of color in communication. “Colors are the first thing you notice in a logo, what gets fastest to our brains," says the designer. "Then you read a logo’s shape, icons, or typography."

Rupolo found that, “All in all, the logos don't look better swapped than the originals. If you take the Visa x Mastercard example, you'll notice that red doesn't go with credit card credibility at all, but it's acceptable when in a smaller percentage of the total color predominance."

"Of course, when you get to own a color as much as Coca-Cola does, you don't need much more around it," she adds. When Coca-Cola turns Pepsi blue, though, it's surprisingly unsettling.

BMW takes on Ferrari's racy rasta-flag color scheme.

There are some basic associations between colors and emotions. Blue signifies clear-sky calm and trust; green connotes eco-friendly; and red has associations with passion, danger, and urgency, for example.

"These are all big and famous brands," says Rupolo. "They basically own the colors of their logos, and when you switch to a competitor’s colors, your brain notices there's something that doesn’t fit...and that's interesting and a bit curious.”

Co.Design

How Much Does Color Define A Logo?

Graphic designer Paula Rupolo swapped the colors of competing brands' logos. Blue Coke, anyone?

Seeing a logo that's been in your life for years all-of-a-sudden rendered in different colors can be as jarring as a friend's sudden dye job. They just don't look like themselves. And if they just don't look like themselves, how does this change the way we relate to them?

In a recent experiment, Brazilian graphic designer Paula Rupolo swapped the color schemes of competing brands’ logos, revealing much about the power of designers' Pantone choices in determining identity. "Colors are the first thing you notice in a logo, what gets fastest to our brains," she says. "Then you read a logo’s shape, icons, or typography."

To overturn that first wave of identification, Rupolo washed the McDonald’s logo in the vegetable eco-green of Subway. Huh? Yahoo got a rainbow makeover, and Google went goth in purple and black. Coca-Cola looks uncomfortable with its new Pepsi-esque blue background, and BMW takes on Ferrari’s racy rasta-flag color scheme. Other swaps are barely noticeable: Twitter and Facebook trade their subtly different shades of blue, as do Samsung and Nokia.

"These are all big and famous brands," Rupolo says. "They basically own the colors of their logos. When you switch to a competitor’s colors, your brain notices there's something that doesn’t fit, that makes you go, 'What's going on here?' and that's interesting and a bit curious."

Also interesting and a bit curious: The only instance of commenters to Rupolo's original blog post preferring the "after" effect was when she switched Yahoo’s to Google’s color scheme, though the company's color purple is a particularly divisive one—and it's hard to hate on a rainbow of primary colors. "Google’s colors are very iconic, perhaps more than its typography," says Rupolo.

The associations between colors and emotions can be both universal and highly personal. Blue, at its most basic, signifies clear-sky calm and trust; green connotes reliable, natural; and red has associations with passion, danger, and urgency, for example. But, as every design student learns, there are always exceptions. In western cultures, white means peace and honesty, whereas in eastern cultures, it's associated with the masculine yang of yin and yang.

"All in all, the logos don't look better swapped than the originals," Rupolo says of the project's results. "If you take the Visa x Mastercard example, you'll notice that red doesn't go with credit card credibility at all, but it's acceptable when in a smaller percentage of the total color predominance."

Different rules apply to soft drinks, however. "Of course," Rupolo adds, "when you get to own a color as much as Coca-Cola does, you don't need much more around it."

She finds that when creating logos, graphic designers tend to add colors a bit too early. "You learn that shape comes first, and once you nail it, you should make color tests and explore the possible readings you get from it." Once you attach a color to your brand book, it can be hard to make changes down the line–-like trying to change your first name in mid-life—which is why it's not done much.

The European rebranding of McDonald’s, however, has embraced a new color scheme: green and yellow. "McDonald’s change was a successful case in my opinion, basically because they decided to get greener and healthier, and luckily, the direct complementary color of their brand was exactly what they needed."

Rupolo has been taking reader requests for logo color swaps on her website and is expecting a second batch to come out soon. To read her original blog post on the project, click here.

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18 Comments

  • Evan Brown

    A lot. I believe! I read a study recently that had found that color increases brand recognition by 80%.

  • Fernan2rod

    Cool exercise! but I think is a little bit subjective the theme. I can call it the semantic of color problem.

  • Yumi365

    Omg this article is so true. I had an online forum, and we were doing a redesigning of it. I thought I would be democratic about it, and let the rest of the admins pick colour. You wouldn't believe the choices some of them came up with . I choose "chilly blue" eventually as a middle of the road approach because I probably spent the most time out of all of them on the site. It was also easy on the eyes.

  • Mike Watson

    Colour is an important consideration in brand identity because
    colours provide a significant impact on your emotional state
    Red stands for passion, fire, action, danger, love, hatred, anger, strength, aggression. It’s never middle of the road, so if you want to get noticed – wear red.
    Blue is the most calming of the primary colours. Financial institutions often use blue because it evokes professionalism.
    Green is calming, refreshing and suggests health, fertility and freedom. Many health and beauty products apply green to their packaging and merchandising.
    Yellow is the most visible colour, it suggests warmth, and is
    associated with the sun. It communicates optimism, positivism, light and warmth. Certain shades seem to motivate and stimulate creative thought and energy.
    Pink evokes femininity, gentleness, innocence
    Purple is spiritual, regal, luxurious and sophistication
    Orange – choosing, colour as a name allowed a company to own the colour orange. Orange expresses all the qualities of the brand, warmth, friendliness, energy and optimism.
    White is in a sense a total absence of colour it suggests purity and truthfulness.
    Black is serious, bold powerful and classic. It creates drama and denotes sophistication
    Hope this helps

  • brandesignstrategy

    I think i am going to get some french fries that I love, because they have a strong flavor, even though they are dangerous, which i hate…

    Unicorns don't exist. And no. I don't want a palm reading...

  • brandesignstrategy

    This article completely overemphasizes color, which, unfortunately occurs way to often. The meaning associated with the identity, and the brand context that shapes that experience over time is what cognitively adheres that mark and its associated colors to your memory.

    Now, color may aid that phenomenon, in that it may make a brand stand out, or align with various sources that foster meaning, but color alone means relatively little and is easily subjugated.

    Do you notice a difference if a color in a logo changes after you have seen it millions of times? Sure. But it is not because of any inherent meaning that color has.

    Think of a portrait of Hitler, or Charles Manson for instance, and imagine them using only one color. Easter colors, pastels, baby blue, pink… The associated meaning with those images completely subjugates any meaning supposedly injected by color.

    I think this overemphasis of color illustrates in part how business pedagogy and thinking in general is often completely devoid of design knowledge.

    So thanks for perpetuating the distraction with account executives, managers or other design challenged or design illiterate staff in organizations. So even more managers, for example, with a finance or other non-design background, are put into ever more situations where they make the final design decisions without a design skill set…lol…often because of oversimplification like this…lol...(sarcastic, but chuckling)

  • Angad Manchanda

    Any designers here who are looking to shift to Bombay, India. I have a digital agency and we are hiring. Just trying my luck here.

  • Mathieu Mantrant O'Dowd

    Hi Angad, what profiles are you looking for ? I am in the process of exploring new challenges after 20 years in the web & graphic design in France.
    The development of India as a superpower has fascinated me for a long time, and I want to move from Europe, this could be an interesting opportunity.
    Get in touch, you can find me on Google Plus, or linkedIn.

  • EDROACH

    Color is an icon. It's as associated with brand as other visual and non-visual elements. Done properly, a brand can own their color over time. ie: UPS and brown. Great demonstration here - shows confusion when improper colors are used.

  • Andrew

    Ferrari's color scheme isn't a "rasta flag". It's an Italian flag over a yellow emblem.

  • Paige Engels

    I'm with Ben on this one. What is with the animated images? They are moving WAY to fast to even take in.

    Cool experiment though.

  • Ben

    Google in Yahoo purple actually works for me. But that Yahoo is a fail in any color. That all said, the back-and-forth between the color swaps is so quick an brief, it's hard to digest some of the altered logos.

  • Myasara

    Agreed. I couldn't look at them long enough to have a feeling or opinion.

  • Uomo di Rinascita

    Color aside, the Yahoo! logo does appear a bit amateur by my eyes. Maybe there is too much space between the "Y" and the "a" and perhaps too little between the others (a-o)?

    Yahoo would certainly benefit from a perception that it's starting to take design more seriously. Overall (like the logo) the page feels cluttered and unorganized, like a flea market of news and information.

  • goodgoodgood

    Yahoo's new logo is border criminal. But Marissa Mayer thinks it is cool.