A blue company logo? Then we entrust to you our money and our lives

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure’s cyanometer from 1789, an instrument for measuring the blue of the sky. Photo Museum of History of the Sciences of the City of Geneva

Think yellow. Or think red. Or even green. But not blue, the eternal, obligatory blue.

When three brand identity agencies from The Hague and Breda merged a year and a half ago, they started looking for a new name. The chosen Think yellowthink yellow.

Think Yellow helps small and large businesses develop (or customize) a corporate identity and / or sales strategy. Color choices play an important role in this. Think Yellow obviously has a yellow logo. That color, says creative director Paulus Nabbe, stands for optimism, creativity and free thinking.

With the choice of yellow, the company stands out in the business world in love with blue. Thousands of Western companies have blue as the dominant color in their corporate identity. Such as the social media companies Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, tech giants like Dell, IBM and Sam-sung, car brands like BMW, Ford and Volkswagen.

The Dutch business community is just as blue. Take the logos of the fifty largest listed companies: blue is the core color for more than half, from sky blue by KLM to cornflower blue by Albert Heijn. The national government, the royal family, the police, the ANWB and many other bodies are also dressed in blue.

What does that color represent? We asked fifteen ‘blue’ companies and institutions. And to two designers who help companies and institutions develop their brand identity. A search for the meaning of blue, from azure and police blue to pigeon blue and Delft blue, on floating roofs, bicycle tires and milk cartons.

KLM’s sky blue

Let us first clarify a misunderstanding about what is perhaps best known corporate blue of Holland: the sky blue of the logo, planes and costumes for the stewardesses and purses from KLM. It has often been claimed, also in KLM commercials, that the company, founded in 1919, was the first commercial airline to have a choice of all the colors of the rainbow, and because of its affiliation with a glorious blue sky, chose the current ones. clear blue.

It’s not true. The first KLM logo was black. Then the logo turned yellow, orange, again black and then red. It was not until 1958 that blue became the airline’s main color, a dark blue that lasted for decades. The current lighter blue hue, which is said to be “more open, more dynamic, more innovative”, originates from a restyling in 1991 and has been retained ever since because of its recognizability worldwide.

Sometimes the choice is too blue pragmatic. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told in 2010 in New Yorkers that he colored his social media company blue after an online test that showed he is red-green color blind: “Blue is the richest color for me – I can see all that blue.”

The employment service Randstad chose a blue logo in the 1960s for another practical reason, says a spokesman. “At that time, red, orange and green were not to be used for outdoor advertising near traffic lights.” But Facebook and Randstad are the exceptions. When asked about the reasons for their blue identity, companies generally mention the positive associations associated with blue from color psychology: loyalty, authority, professionalism, and trust.

When a Dutchman gets on a KLM plane abroad, the feeling of coming home should already start because of the ubiquitous blue, says a spokesman. The “vibrant blue” of the large U on the Unilever logo was chosen to “emphasize positivity and energy,” a spokeswoman said. AkzoNobel’s blue stands for “strength, balance and pride.” Albert Heijn-blauw for “reliable, consistent, humane and tasty.”

The rugged blue hue that Philips has used for its logo since 2008 exudes “authority and reliability”, according to Helen Keyes, the Briton who watches over the Philips logo as Global Head of Brand, Communication & Digital Design. Key features of a company that is currently primarily involved in the production of medical devices. During her 20 years in the United States, Keyes says, she has found that companies that ask consumers to trust them with their money or their lives, such as banks and airlines, are almost invariably blue. “With that color, they inspire confidence. Hopefully it will also be the same with the blue Philips logo in hospitals: that you as a patient feel that you are in safe hands.”


Why does blue really stand for positivity? This is based on a universal feeling, says Harald Dunnink, founder of Momkai, a design agency in Amsterdam that helps companies at home and abroad to develop a brand identity. “We all like blue skies, blue sea and clear water.” Blue is therefore a safe choice for designers, he says. “It gives a certain reliability and peace of mind.” In short, a non-threatening color that may seem conservative and traditional, and which has been studied as the most preferred color, especially among men.

Dunink’s observations are in line with the blue motivation of large institutions. The logo of the national government is inspired by the Dutch light, can be found on the website about the government house style. The dark blue used is said to radiate “calm and reliability, tradition and lasting values ​​and harmony and balance.” For the same reason, the police chose a dark blue shade as the main color. That police blue, says a spokesman, exudes “calm, confidence and authority”. Agents identify with their main color. Colleagues sometimes send each other blue hearts, a spokesman said. Something similar is happening at Albert Heijn. Those who do their best can be internally complimented as having ‘a blue heart’ or ‘blue blood’.

Black is too cold and too intense, blue appears less harsh and more intelligent

Joost Poolman Simons leader brand monitoring visual identity ANWB

ANWB, the largest association in the Netherlands, also has blue as the main color in its logo. Joost Poolman Simons, trademark manager for the union’s visual identity, says the dark hue used represents “status, authority, reliability and something royal”. “Like European sister associations, we use yellow as the main color for our roadside assistance vehicles. But it is because of the signal value that the yellow attention attracts in the traffic. We always use blue for text messages. Black is too cold and too intense, blue appears less harsh and more intelligent. “

blue suit

From the perspective of color psychology, blue is a safe choice, says Paulus Nabbe from Think Yellow. His company of 50 employees likes to go a different way with customers when it comes to color choices for a logo, packaging materials or the company car fleet. Like his colleague Dunnink van Momkai, Nabbe says that blue as the main color is often not the best solution. For neither well in line with the company’s ambitions nor significantly enough. Nabbe: “Business-wise and reliable, that’s what every business wants to be. How distinctive are you with such a mandatory choice for blue?” Dunink points to the successful Swedish financial start-up Klarna. In the predominantly blue financial world, the company stood out with old pink as the dominant color. Dunnink: “With such a color that is common around gender discussions, you stand out as a financial institution. appears as a progressive brand and you are against the appearance of the company that creates blue. “

Developing a visual identity always starts with describing the brand experience, the two designers say. What words are appropriate for this? Dunnink: “One customer is out for controversy, another wants reliability, a third wants a brand to land well. I need to understand what a name and a company’s principles stand for, they nurture a design. Color should be a logical consequence of a long conversation. ”

It is impossible to claim the exclusive right to use a color

Nabbe gives an example: If ‘energy’ and ‘determination’ are the words that best describe the ambition of a brand, then yellow, according to the creative director, is an appropriate main color for a logo and other corporate expressions.

Agencies almost always translate the words that match a brand into a palette of colors. Recognize the Ikea blue without the yellow spot color, the surface on which the letters stand, says Nabbe. Or the blue from the electronics webshop Coolblue without the orange addition. Without that context, he says, it is difficult to recognize the individual blue main colors.

Also because corporate blues are often close to each other. For example, the logo colors for Albert Heijn, KLM, Philips and Randstad and Unilever do not differ much. It is also impossible to claim the exclusive right to use a color. Fifteen years ago, T-Mobile tried to register magenta, the color of its logo, as a trademark. The German telecommunications company has already asked various Dutch companies to stop using this color as their ‘house color’. The judge did not agree; companies can at most register a combination of colors as a trademark.


Four factors play a role in color choices for companies, Nabbe explains. In addition to the aforementioned color psychology and positioning relative to competitors, these are availability and efficiency.

Scientific insight plays a role in the latter two factors. Colors can help get the message across clearly, he says, “For example, certain color strengths and contrasts work better online than others.”

The guidelines for digital accessibility are laid down in the so-called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). For example, too little contrast between letter and background is one of visually impaired and elderly’s biggest complaints about readability. And some color combinations, it has often been noted, are significantly less readable than others.

The fourth factor, efficiency, is about what in technical jargon is called conversion optimization. In other words: how to entice consumers to press an order button? Color also seems to be a crucial factor. Nabbe: „Den call for action must stand out on a screen. “

sense of togetherness

It is important for the brand’s image that the company’s colors are as consistent as possible across all channels, says Nabbe. Technically something of a challenge. This is because print, screen and paint colors are very different. Each medium has its own color systems. The CMYK inks for printing inks are quite limited. The range of RGB colors for online is much larger, just as the paint and varnish colors for shop interiors and commercial vehicles are designated according to the RAL or NCS system.

Nabbe: “It is very complicated to match online colors with packaging and trucks. Coolblue, which is not a customer of ours, is an example of a company that does that translation well. You can see how complicated it is from ING Bank’s orange. In printed matter, it tends to brown. ”

Finally, an anecdote that makes it clear how influential the choice for blue can be. In 2014, four TU Delft students set up Swapfiets, a company with 260,000 members that pays a fixed monthly amount for bicycle mobility.

The start-up entrepreneurs chose Delft blue front deck as a tribute to the city where they studied. A marketing find from non-marketing professionals that turned out great. Each bike with a blue front tire acted as a movable advertising pillar and also contributed to the sense of community among prey cyclists.

Some bike salesmen and bike mechanics initially thought it was a fashion gimmick and bought blue tires. Until they discovered that Swapfiets is a competitor to theirs. And if the young subscription holders got punctured, they could have their blue tires repaired at Swapfiets for free.

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