Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Color of Money.

I had something really, really important to expound upon this week. But sometimes, even the most important stuff has to stand back and show some respect for the truly ridiculous. And before this number slips out of currency, I thought we should have a little talk about color.

I'm not talking about black people or white people. I'm talking about text and backgrounds and why people choose the colors they do. And if you think that's a completely worthless topic, let me remind you that just recently, the brain trust at ABC Television paid an advertising/creative consultancy FORTY MILLION DOLLARS for this:

 Black type on a yellow background

Well? Are you and I in the wrong business or not? Forty million smackers to tell some New York knuckleheads what the lowly bumble bee has known for years: black on yellow is high contrast and certainly attracts attention -- if not other bumble bees. And that's why you'll be seeing a lot of black and yellow junk on the tube this fall. But what does that really mean to you and me?For one thing, it tells you that color is important to people. For another, it tells you that to some people, color is so important that they'd gladly pay more than you or I will ever earn in our lifetimes just to pick the right ones.Color is REALLY important when it comes to marketing, identity, advertising and web design. It helps determine your corporate personality and very often, the rate at which your message is assimilated and comprehended by your viewers. The bumble bee motif above, for example, is high-contrast, designed for shock and attention. Great for street signs. Not so terrific for selling Mother's Day greeting cards. Personally, I like Clickz's color combinations, because I can read it easily and comfortably. And the easier and more comfortable it is, the more likely I am to want to read it.

Unfortunately, I see tons of websites whose designers have absolutely no sense of color or design. Hey -- show of hands -- how many of you have spent more than a few minutes squinting at the likes of this:

 Blue type on a black background

Or this:

 Cyan on gray.

Don't get me wrong -- I've designed plenty of sites with black backgrounds. And all of them were really slick and sexy, but they were all readable, too. Come on, people, this is a graphic medium we're working with, but for Pete's sake, now that you've got a minimum of 216 colors to choose, use them wisely. Use them for personality and clarity.Now, what about some handy guidelines regarding color and personality? Okay, let's break them down into colors and characters. The easiest ones to start with are the neutrals: grays, blacks and whites. I consider these the business suits of the internet. People take you more seriously when your site is based on those colors, because backgrounds of yellow, red and blue are considered, well, the loud polka dot necktie with polyester double knit pants. Green and dark browns are the hallmark colors of losers -- short-sleeve shirts with bow ties and plastic pocket protectors.

No matter how you combine your colors, make sure they contrast enough so that people can consume every single gem wisdom you've hard-coded for posterity. And pay no attention to rule makers who insist that "reversing type out of dark backgrounds is hard to read." Nonsense. If I'm trying to dim the lights and make a web site look tasty, you're damn right I'm going to stick with a dark background. Of course, the trick to reversing out type is making sure that the type color you select has enough luminescence.

 Orange, red, pinks, yellows and even blues and greens can reverse out of black or dark backgrounds, as long as you use them at full strength.

One more thing for all you tiled-pattern freaks: Patterns are nice, but they're a bitch to read against. Make sure you test your text colors against your pattern BEFORE you start building your ads, banners and pages with them. Save those cool nuclear-blasted-lunar-landscape patterns for layouts that are textually light and graphically-intensive.Who knows? You do a good enough job, someone may offer you $40 million for it.Rob Frankel

Copyright 1997, FRANKEL & ANDERSON * Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative * * Toll-Free in USA & Canada: 1-888-ROBFRANKEL * Telephone: 818-990-8623 * FAX: 413-778-0909 *

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