An exploration of color usage in top technology brands
As strategists and designers, we are always curious about the use of color in culture and business. Recently, we took a look at brand colors in the top 100 technology firms. While the range of colors and combinations is varied, we noted a few intriguing themes.
For tech company colors, blue is always true
Not surprisingly, more than half of the top 100 had elements of dark blue or black in their logos. Some of these brands, like IBM and HP, date from an era when tech companies wanted to be viewed as stable corporate partners, rather than game-changing disrupters. Blue is a perennial choice in corporate branding — not only is it the color most people cite as their favorite, it’s also associated with power and success. Both dark blue and black connote sober authority, something early tech pioneers were anxious to communicate.
As the tech sector matured, the blue tones lightened and brightened. We’re not sure when corporate photographers started using blue gels in their shoots, but the cyan-toned conference room and cool-blue laboratory are still popular stock-photo choices. Bright blue came to represent cutting-edge technology, and became a popular choice for tech firms that wanted to stay in the comfortable blue family, but kick up the liveliness quotient.
Today, several prominent tech brands are doubling down on blue, especially an electric blue that really pops in digital applications. Zillow’s revamped electric-blue logo and proprietary icons are easy to locate on a small screen. Anyone who used a PC in the 1980s and 90s will feel a sense of deja-vu: that bright blue was ubiquitous in early software programs and websites.
And firms that aren’t historically “tech” brands are using bright blue to signal their entry into a more data-focused arena. McKinsey’s new brand relies on a full range of amped-up blue tones, anchored by its still-sober deep-blue wordmark.
Even IBM has expanded its blue palette to include a variety of bright blues. The flexibility and visibility of these hues is useful to a large, global tech firm with multiple application needs.
The rainbow connection in tech branding
If you could time-travel back to the 1980s, you’d find yourself in a sea of black and blue technology branding: IBM, HP, Microsoft, Dell. But you’d also find the iconic rainbow-hued Apple logo, which announced from the beginning that this was a company that intended to “Think Different.”
At the time, Apple’s logo was a startling departure from the norm, but the idea of using a rainbow of colors to signal newness never died. In 1997, eBay bounded into the online shopping world with a new concept and a bouncy, colorful logo. Though the letters have since settled into a less playful alignment, the multiple colors still allude to the endless variety found on eBay’s site.
When Google launched in 1999, it too used multiple primary colors in its logo, implying playful energy and hinting at the infinite possibilities in the Google search universe. The logo has been flattened and streamlined, but it’s still the primary element in a brand that has become a global powerhouse. So recognizable is the Google logo that the company regularly alters it for Google Doodles — something most brand managers would avoid.
And when Microsoft wanted to launch its game-changing Windows product, it signaled the product’s newness with a wavy four-color “flag.” Those four squares of color eventually morphed to become part of the Microsoft corporate logo.
When in doubt, start with black and add something zingy
What’s a tech company to do when it wants to look edgy but also instill confidence? Add a hit of bright color to a solid base of black or gray. That’s the brand choice of several companies in the top 100. And it makes sense: you can inject as little or as much pop into your brand as the application requires.
A good example is computing innovator Nvidia, which pairs black and bright green in its high-impact, high-visibility brand. Liberal use of black and charcoal gray lend gravitas to its communications, while the bright green underscores its future-focused computing expertise.
Consulting giant Accenture also takes this approach. During a recent brand revamp, the company genericized its black wordmark but amped up the color and weight of the little arrow symbol. The arrow is also deployed as a big, bold graphic element, with bright colors assigned to different business lines. As with electric blue, the use of neon green, scarlet and three-alarm yellow is very effective even in small doses on a small screen. And Accenture reserved vivid purple for its overall brand accent color, a bold and dynamic choice.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it
Quite a few giants in technology launched with red as their corporate color, and stuck with it even when red lost some of its allure in branding. While tech start-ups signaled their edginess with confetti-hued logos and green branding (we’re sustainable!), companies like Xerox and Oracle stayed with bright red, a color that has become a mainstay of financial services companies. And it makes sense — these are established B2B tech companies, and the bold, in-your-face strength of red signals their power and authority. It doesn’t hurt that red works quite well in digital applications.
Interestingly, when Google launched Alphabet in 2015, it chose bright red as the brand color. Considering how low-key the spin-off company is, it was an unusual choice. But the Alphabet brand is blandly generic, and red is an effective punctuation color in text-only applications.
The takeaway: whatever the color, expect it to be very bright
Companies are tweaking their blue logos to be lighter and brighter, sticking with candy-colored mash-ups, and adding neon to their palettes. While this shift could just be part of a me-too design trend, it’s also triggered by the functional value of these colors in digital applications. So we expect the brightness to continue for quite a while. Get out your sunglasses!
To learn more about tech company colors, contact us.
About the author Dru DeSantis is a cofounder of DeSantis Breindel. She shapes strategic brand identities and powerful brand activations from digital ecosystems to multi-channel campaigns, engaging audiences and achieving critical business objectives.
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