Found History

by Tom Scheinfeldt

Black, White, and Red

| 4 Comments

Steering partners and clients toward simpler web designs is one of the greatest services we can render. In consultations and collaborative projects, I often find myself advocating for less, less, less. This is especially true when it comes to color schemes—historians aren’t easily put off their beiges, navy blues, burgundies, and parchment textured backgrounds. I do not have any design training, so I have just as often been frustrated by my lack of appropriate and convincing language to explain that when it comes to color, less is often more. Until now.

airjordanLast week I met a design professor who gave me the words. “When we are teaching color to design students,” he said, “we always tell them to start with black, white, and red.” “You don’t have to stay there, but any time you stray from black, white, and red, you should have a good reason.” “It’s no accident Coca-Cola, Marlboro, and Santa Claus are the world’s most recognizable brands.”

To this list he added the highly stylized opening titles of the fashion setting television show, Mad Men. I immediately thought of Nike Air Jordans, and the covers of Time, Life, Newsweek, and The Economist. I’m sure there are many others. Black, white, and red just work. Please feel free to share additional examples in comments.

[Image credit: ididj0emama]

4 Comments

  1. This pleases me to no end! I’m sure it’s not coincidental that in cultures with only 3 color terms, they approximate to black, white, and red. (The original reference is Berlin & Kay’s 1969 book, but I’m just going to link to Wikipedia, it looks pretty accurate – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_Color_Terms:_Their_Universality_and_Evolution)

  2. While working as a magazine editor, I interacted with talented designers on a daily basis. It was then that I noticed this curious chromatic “fundamental truth.” When I probed deeper, a designer reaffirmed that black, white and red are critical to delivering a compelling graphic message. She then pointed out an historic example to drive her point home: the Nazi flag…

  3. And here’s another historical allusion to those captivating hues: “Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme…” Richard Thompson, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”

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