True colors

So you’re a brand owner or about to become one. You’re a human being with a mostly-intuitive-still-fairly-decent sense of how colors work. (Or at least you happen to know of kuler which is more than enough, if you’re a stereotypical programmer;)

You put most of your hopes in the hands of a designer, but your common sense states firmly that some things in life fortunately are constant, and colors are one of them. Yellow is associated with cowardice, and purple with spirituality. Red stands for passion and love, green for nature and orange for sun. Blue, on the other hand, is safe enough to work in every other context and as such is obligatory in any ppt presentation.

Then, in a momentary lapse of reality, a truly radical idea enters your mind – a passionate firefighter in love drinking coke – and you can feel your anterior cingulate cortex swelling from cognitive dissonance. That’s because colors don’t work like metonymy but rather as metaphor. The difference lies in strength of an association (or lack of thereof in case of metaphor) – suit may be an appropriate and a ‘transparent’ substitute (and a metonym) for business executive, but a metaphor as such always requires decoding. The ambiguity of a metaphor gives no right answers. 

 Coming back to colors: meaning of colors does not translate metonymically in a pre-supposed context but is decoded each time within different environment. Depending on the context, red may or may not stand for love (think: red traffic light), green for nature (how about money?) and so on. If you’re about to decide, the colors used by your competitors or the brandscape may provide a much better point of reference to start with than some artsy guide of color meaning.

Paul CézanneStill Life with Apples
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