Colour – The CTO Weighs In

I guess colour is a key aspect of a brand. All the companies I’ve worked for have spent huge sums identifying the exact colours that they will use to represent themselves. Then the marketing department hires a small team of brown-shirts to police that palette.

So, you’d think they would have really tight control over what exactly that colour is.

Unfortunately, colours are decided by marketing people, usually under extreme pressure to complete the project and they don’t think ahead to the technical requirements of the job. And the one technical requirement that we have of colour is to know exactly how to reproduce it in a variety of contexts.

Now, I’ve just had an interesting experience reviewing our brand book, because we wanted to get our particular colour right on an online form. Sadly the brand book contained only CMYK and Pantone colours — useless online — which lead me to a colour converter, and ultimately to the Pantone website. If you think for five minutes, you can use the Pantone website to convert a Pantone colour to their suggested RGB value. The very strange thing is that none of these colours matched: they didn’t match by value and they didn’t match by looking. So, we were no further ahead, apart from an interesting dicussion with the local colour nazi, who gave us the colour he uses — another county heard from.

So, if I’m ever working with a company that is redoing its graphic standards, and I have a chance to affect the graphic standards, I am going to try my best to withhold judgment about the chosen colour: there will certainly be enough executives squabbling over that. However, I will insist on the following:

1. Do not accept only print-centric colour spaces! The agency owns a copy of the Pantone Color Bridge, and should at least give you the Pantone RGB, HSV and other versions of the colours .

2. Test the colour specifications suggested, rather than accepting that they look like the graphic standard. Bear in mind, they will appear different on different types of stock, under different lighting, with different monitors. But you should be able to get something that looks reasonably close.


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