Get to Know a Color! Orange is Controversial

The color orange elicits strong reactions. For instance, it makes the Syracuse University mascot smile (though he does not have much to smile about at the moment) and it surprises prop comedian Carrot Top.

The website Sensational Color proclaims that orange “sparks more controversy than any other hue,” and that it “elicits a stronger ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ response than other colors.” I learned this firsthand early on in my design career, when I used bright orange in one project and was thereafter known to some of my orange-hating coworkers as “Mr. Orange,” “that guy who uses orange all the time,” or “fat idiot.”

A combination of primary colors red and yellow, orange is a secondary color. It’s warm, so most color theory sources agree that orange is an upbeat, high-energy color and a stimulant of everything from appetite to brain activity. The website Color Wheel Pro says that “orange increases oxygen supply to the brain” and is “highly accepted by young people.” (I’m not sure what they mean by “young people,” but my orange-haired four-year-old daughter likes orange, and she does not shy away from controversy.)

According to Wikipedia, the name of the color comes from the name of the fruit, and “the first recorded use of orange as a color name in English was in 1512, in the court of King Henry VIII.” (Also according to Wikipedia, George Clooney is president of the United States and William Shakespeare was born in 1927 and was raised by a family of squirrels, so take that with a grain of salt.)

In various cultures, according to Sensational Color, orange is accociated with happiness and love (China and Japan), family (Native American), gluttony (Christianity), and Tang (USA). (Okay, that last part wasn’t in that article, but you know it’s true.) Bright, citrus-like orange is associated with spring and summer, while darker orange is associated with fall.

Speaking of controversy, even though the Dutch flag is red, white, and blue, orange is considered the color of Dutch national pride (not to mention their soccer team, the Oranje). Why? Because orange is the color of the Dutch royal family, which “hails from the House of Orange,” according to the article “Why the Dutch Wear Orange” on the website Dutch Amsterdam. In fact, the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day every April 30 by singing, “Oranje boven, oranje boven, leve the Koningin!” (Orange on top, orange on top, long live the Queen!), presumably while waving red, white, and blue flags.

Another interesting fact about orange is that every single time I have ever heard the soon-to-be-defunct color-coded terror threat level announced in an airport, it has been orange.

In design, orange can be used to attract attention without being as alarming as red or as oppressively cheery as yellow, but if you use it, be prepared to deal with the orange haters.

Orange is often used with its complement, blue, to create a bold, vibrant color palette, which is why you often see this combination in the uniforms of sports teams, such as the Denver Broncos football team, the stupid New York Mets baseball team (who, if they never win another game ever, it would be fine with me), and countless college and university athletic programs. This striking, blue-orange palette is frequently used in aquariums to draw out the color of the particular species of jellyfish pictured here. The photo above is from the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada, but it’s no accident that you see this blue used in this sort of display in many aquariums.

As with other warm colors, it’s easy to overuse orange. Because of its brightness, pure orange is best used as a highlight color, especially online. The website examples above mitigate the offensive effects of orange by using a light, peachy tint (Pampaneo) or using it at full saturation, but sparingly (Glue). (These examples are borrowed from the article “24 Examples of Orange Websites” on the website Inspiredology.)

Also easy to overuse is this joke: Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange ya glad I didn’t say banana?

Finally, orange is high in Vitamin C, which prevents scurvy, and that’s something we can all agree on.

Also in this series (so far): Red, Blue, Yellow, Purple.
Photos courtesy The Sports Bank and ABC.

12 thoughts on “Get to Know a Color! Orange is Controversial

  1. Why is an orange called ‘orange’ but a lemon in not called ‘yellow’ and a lime is not called ‘green’?
    Why is lemon juice mostly artificial ingredients but dishwashing liquid contains real lemons?
    Why is it called a ‘pear’ when there is only one?
    Why does Shea wear argyle sweater vests, bow ties, think pin-stripes is a color and root for the No-Good Stinkin’ Yankees?

  2. My high school colors were orange and black, one year the football team decided they would wear solid orange helmets, maybe the coaches read somewhere your quote of, “orange increases oxygen supply to the brain.” As football players they surely did need that, however all they got was a losing season and were taunted as “Pumpkinheads,” by every single team they played. They never had those helmets again.
    But I do LOVE the Blue and Orange combo, Go CSUF Titans! But my wife HATES my solid orange Titans baseball T-shirt, not that I care. Go controversy.
    Wow, Richmond in the Sweet 16, really? Congrats on that one.

  3. And, why did Shea wear a blue sweater vest to work last Thursday, and then try to slide with the “but I’m wearing green socks!” line?

  4. In the family farms of the Yucatan, most oranges are green. Orange is a bit nauseating to me as it was the color of some of my early childhood vomit, which left a vivid impression. The Syracuse Orange is also a bit nauseating, especially when coach Boeheim gets on screen and talks again. The Dutch name of Albany, NY (also nauseating) was Ft. Orange.

  5. I love all shades of orange except for that obnoxious No-Good Stinkin’ Tennessee Vols orange.

    KF, I do need a green vest.

    Gorge, I will never look at orange or vomit in quite the same way…too funny….now that you have shared that you may feel better.

  6. As a lifelong orange-hater, I had mixed feelings when my daughter won the school placement lottery and was offered a spot at Orangevale Open. The thought of 13 years of orange was one of my biggest concerns! However, after only a year and a half, it’s growing on me, and orange apparel is ALWAYs on the clearance rack, a plus. My daughter also repeats the knock knock joke at least 31 times before she gets to orange and repeats this joke telling ritual every three days at least. So I am beginning to love orange, despite great initial prejudice.

  7. Paul,
    I lovve these tips and would love to share them with my co-workers, who might not have any graphics training, on how to create powerpoints that don’t offend the eyes. When you write, “especially online” can that also mean powerpoint presentations?

  8. Cindy, thanks for your kind comments. Yes, I probably should have said “in projected media” rather than “online.” Any time you’re working with something that’s going to end up on screen (computer monitors, TV, LCD projectors, etc), warm colors can be a bit overwhelming. They can be used, but they’re best in moderation.

  9. Thanks Paul. I’ll share this with the crew. Now if you could only advise how to make graphs meant for documents easy to read in a powepoint.

  10. Orange also has a special meaning for people living in Knoxville, Tennessee USA. It’s the team color of the Univ of Tenn. Volunteers. Easy to OD on it; in fact you can’t get away! Not being much of a sports fan, I have some orange clothes & accessories that are all a part of my personal plan to “take back the orange!”

  11. Hm, interesting. I once read that orange was simple, consistent with likeable emotions, and not conducive to smart thinking. (See the book If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die). It certaintly is a controversial color at any rate, not to mention the fact that different shades have different effects. I always love hearing more about color and its uses.

Comments are closed.