Jan 2, 2017

Developing colour systems for news media

written by Anna Thurfjell

New year, new visions and new colours? Colour speaks louder than words. The fastest method to instantly communicate a message or a meaning through visuals are colour. Colours are crucial to producing good news. Color plays an important role in the user experience, or reader comprehension, so its effects are something you need to think about as a developer. Colours can simplify and sharpen the news communication or in worst case confuse the user. 

There is a clear trend in social media branding colours. What do Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Skype all have in common? They’re all blue. Coincidence? I think not. Blue is a soothing color, promoting clear communication, so it’s no wonder some of the biggest social media networks employ it for their platforms. An upcoming new media brand who wants to stand out clearly, would choose yellow like Vox did.

Blue is not only ‘social’ media it’s a classic strong news colour, used over time. I’ve developed several brand identities in different blue colours.  In the redesign project of the iconic newspaper »Berlingske«, one of the oldest in the world,  blue was also developed. New Berlingske launched in september 2016, a project I was hired to do for and with Mark Porter. Mark, who is famous for The Guardian 2005 redesign (mpa.com), asked me to have a look at all colours. For the overall visual identity of Berlingske, I mixed a blue that is almost black to resemble blue ink.

Most people consider red a strong color and it’s the classic colour for the worldwide broadcasting media such as the CNN and BBC. Real Coke bottles in New York are the same red as ones in London or Mexico City or Mumbai: Pantone 185. While Pantone doesn’t sell actual ink, it does specify how to mix the right proportions of CMYK to yield the color.  The Pantone colour guide system was launched in 1963, with the idea to help matching a colour in different print textures and material. Today in the digital world it’s the RGB* or the HEX* system. The reson to use HEX system in cms is it is the best way to control the opacity of the colour. The Berlingske blue would be #000066.

In our design work, we use white space, typography and color theory to create and support the information architecture of a composition or a story. The foundation of our modern understanding of color and its uses is rooted in the design movement »Bauhaus«* dating back to the early 20th century. The color theory that was taught under four prominent artists Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Josef Albers undergird much of what we currently understand and believe about color, and an examination of the teachings of these four artists helps us understand not only the formation of modern color theory, but indeed how color theory is developed and transmitted.

In the Berlingske newspaper redesign we decided to develop a cool and warm colour system based on several cool blue for the news section and a warm palette with red colours for the Business section. In the third daily section: »B« about culture and lifestyle got a single purple colour and a silver grey as the leading colour. Sometimes a visual story needs illustrations, charts, graphs, maps, or diagrams. For the information graphics design in the Berlingske I went for strong colours for charts and grey scales for maps. To the blue used in graphs I picked a warm yellow as complement colour and for the red a complement green. Grey is a very important part of any successful newspaper colour system. Grey gives as scale in the contrast between black and white. Grey balance and helps the reader experience. Tints are also important both on screen and in print.

In magazine design we expect more subtle colours, elegant and use the colours more as texture than designed a navigation. For all I know developing colour, is like listening to music. It’s about aesthetic and feeling. The magazine colour system in Berlingske is based on 2 different colours system to complement each others, the leading system is strong colours and the complement is subtle pale and grey colours.

*BAUHAUS, The Bauhaus movement and its institute were born in Germany in 1919.  Though the German school only lasted until 1933, when the Nazi government forced it to close. One of the most enduring influences of the Bauhaus, is the color theory.

*RGB tell how much red, green or blue you like to have displayed in the scale 0-255 (which represent the highest concentration of the colour.

* HEX, stands for »Hexademical« colours, ’Hexa’ means 6 and ’decimal’ 10, which stands for the base 16 number system. Hex numbers always starts with the hashtag #.