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Guilty by Association: The Colors of Christmas (and Other Holidays)

Banished to the fringes of the spectrum are innocent color combinations that are doomed forever to be associated with holidays. This time of year the world is awash in red and green signaling the spirit of Christmas, good will toward men and mass hysteria at the mall. When it comes to design and branding, red and green are categorically rejected by clients unless the company is a global pizza conglomerate.

Banished to the fringes of the spectrum are innocent color combinations that are doomed forever to be associated with holidays. This time of year the world is awash in red and green signaling the spirit of Christmas, good will toward men and mass hysteria at the mall.

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colors

When it comes to design and branding, red and green are categorically rejected by clients unless the company is a global pizza conglomerate.

Present these colors with deep strategic rationale and conviction and a CEO’s reaction remains swift and direct: “Too Christmasy.” At times I’ve tried some presentation sleight-of-hand by introducing these colors as “wine and pine.” No good. The association with a poinsettia plant and industrious elves is so strong that red and green get their due for only weeks a year.

Red and green are not alone in their plight. With the help of Autodesk’s Sketchbook Mobile on my iPhone, I’ve created the following digital paintings in Abstract Expressionistic style to present a line up of usual suspects that share a similar fate. Which holidays do you associate with these colors?

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Can you see now why the choice of a distinctive brand color takes great corporate courage and vision? Brown and gold for UPS, robin’s egg blue and white for Tiffany and yellow and black for Livestrong stand apart.

Navy blue, the flag of conservatism, is the safe bet for thousand of corporations.

Red? Sorry Coke, Target and Virgin, no one in this brand-saturated world owns red.

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Except maybe Christmas.

Happy Holidays!

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Ken Carbone is among America’s mostrespected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity andintelligence. He has built an international reputation creatingoutstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany &Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the WHotel Group, and The Taubman Company. His clients also includecelebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, TheMuseum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago SymphonyOrchestra, and the High Museum of Art.

About the author

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding company in New York City.

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