Get to Know a Color! Blue

I’m writing about the color blue this week, and not just because that’s how Shea and I are feeling after our respective teams were dismissed from the baseball playoffs this weekend. Welcome to the second installment of “Get to Know a Color!”

If you go into the blue out of the blue, you are going somewhere unknown unexpectedly. If you take the blue ribbon while singing the Blues, you are the best there is at making sad music. If you use blue language to describe blue laws, you are angry about government trying to legislate morality.

And if you’re feeling blue about Blue Hens football, you are sad about the state of the team from the University of Delaware. (Though why would you be? They’re ranked #2 in the country!)

While many of the phrases that involve the word blue denote sadness, there is a generally positive association with the color. In fact, it is cited in many places as the most common favorite color (though I’ve not seen a formal study that confirms this).

The color blue is seen in many cultures to represent calm—like a blue sky or smooth waters. (Taking tranquility to the extreme, blue can also represent depression or sadness.) An article on color psychology by Kendra Cherry indicates that blue is used to decorate bedrooms because of its calming influence, and that research shows that people work more efficiently in rooms decorated in blue. (These two facts seem incongruous to me, but the general idea seems to be that the calming influence of a blue room helps people both sleep and concentrate, presumably not at the same time.)

In terms of the physics of how we see color, only purple exists on a lower frequency of wavelengths visible to the human eye.

As with any color, blue is seen differently in different cultures. In Iran, blue is the color of mourning. An article on titled A Vast Ocean of Blue by Blythe Langley indicates that blue represents spirituality or Heaven in Eastern cultures, while in the West it is associated more with the corporate world. Because in Western cultures blue has come to represent stability and importance, navy blue is the de facto choice for business suits. (There is still no explanation for Shea’s affinity for his light blue Seersucker suit.)

Blue is an appetite suppressant, a fact often attributed to the lack of naturally occurring blue food (even blueberries are more purple than blue). Clearly, then, the traditional navy blue power suit is the result of important people not wanting to be eaten.

In design, the cool color blue is often used with its warm complement, orange, to create a vibrant, powerful palette. Because of the bold statement it makes, the blue-orange palette is common on sports uniforms (see Boise State, the University of Virginia, the Denver Broncos, the New York Mets, and countless others). Blue is also frequently paired with green to create a soothing, analogous palette that connotes a feeling of nature.

Blue is common in logo design. A blog post by Jennifer Moline on the site Inspiredology highlights “15 Blue Logos that Evoke Precision” (though the post leaves out what to me is the most obvious precise blue logo, Paul Rand’s iconic IBM).

And finally, as I researched this post, I kept stumbling on this odd tidbit: Research shows that weight lifters perform better in rooms that are painted blue. For interpreters, this is can be an important fact if you have identified your target audience as Hans and Franz. (A 1980s Saturday Night Live reference is timely and hip, right?)

I associate the color blue with an all-too-brief visit my wife and I made last year to the Greek island of Santorini (pictured at the top of this post). Our time there was spent under clear skies and overlooking the sparkling Aegean Sea. Under the blazing sun, buildings like the iconic church pictured here were blue and white, almost without exception. I have a distinct recollection of being surrounded by blue, and it was as relaxing a time as I can remember (though that’s in part because the children were home with their grandparents).

Making color choices in design is difficult because every individual brings his or her own experiences and preconceptions to the table, but with a basic understanding of how color is generally perceived within the culture for whom your work is intended, designers and interpreters can make meaningful decisions.

6 thoughts on “Get to Know a Color! Blue

  1. To add to the research, my favorite color is blue. Trying to explain this concept of color having as much meaning as your choice of text is sometimes difficult, so I appreciate your venture into this topic. On a side note, does anyone else find it gratifying that both A-Rod and Howard struck out looking to end their respective team’s seasons? They both looked very blue afterward, especially for Alex against his old team. And from a blue perspective, Ranger blue is about the prettiest I’ve ever seen.

  2. I just finished reading Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant , by Daniel Tammet. It is titled as such because one of his skills is calendrical computation, in which he can ID the day of the week for any date–and that day will look like a color, take the form of a 3D shape in his mind, and carry with it a certain affect–so a calendar to him is a landscape of sorts, full of shapes, colors, feelings. From a review: “People with synaethesia see numbers as forms with color and texture, and days as vivid colors, and so Daniel Tammet has the ability to see in his mind numbers and days as colors, each number and day having its own distinct color as an attribute. A day with a color, like a flower with a scent! The blue day of the title of this book refers to Wednesday, which, like the number nine, he sees in his mind as blue. ‘I know it was a Wednesday,’ narrates Tammet, ‘because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing.'” It is a wonderful book and a fascinating look at color and emotion–among many other things.

  3. Kelly – wonderful comment.

    Paul, Shea and Brain H – it is about time we got these posts back to the real subject at hand, baseball.

    When Paul first mentioned “blue” and “baseball,” I must admit my first thought was Dodger Blue and Dodger Dogs. As many of you know, I am a San Diego Padres fan first, a Philadelphia Phillies fan second as I was born in Philly, and a No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees hater always.

    But I was once a Dodger fan. I actually grew up in the San Fernando Valley (but I do not speak valley girl). Lived there from time I was 5 up in to my 20’s, so I was a Dodger fan and Giants hater. I then moved south to the San Diego area and there you are a Padres fan and a Dodger hater. Now I live up on the central coast of California, halfway between LA and SF, between two of the teams I grew up hating, but never as much as the No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees. I will actually be rooting for the SF Giants to win the World Series. They are after all, from California and play in the National League where they play real baseball, not that American League garbage.

    Brian, I really like your comment about A-Rod and Howard. How many tens of millions of dollars was that that struck out looking to end a playoff series? Heck, I could take a called strike three for only a million and be happy.

    Shea, talking about blue pin stripes I am sure you meant your seersucker suits and not the uniform of the No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees.

    Paul wrote about all this other blue stuff, but I cannot figure out what any of it has to do with baseball and the World Series???

  4. Hmmm, in 19th century slang, blue was also an adjective for drunk, such as “blue blazing blind drunk” or “Blue Nun.”

  5. Like Brian, I also love the color blue. I am thinking about using it as the primary color for my business logo, just because of what you said, it seems to have a calming affect on people. Also, to add to things, Blue is used to symbolize a personality type in the Color Code. People with “Blue” personalities are often calm, but are motivated by a need to feel close to people. It’s all very interesting to me.

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