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A Case for Pink

Of all the commonly and typically used colors, pink both overwhelms and escapes me. On one hand, with a one-year-old daughter, pink seems to be everywhere: Room décor, baby paraphernalia, a few toys and especially clothing. Of course, if I had a boy, pink would absolutely not even be an option, something I am reminded of every time Maya is dressed in anything but pink, be it red, blue or orange with people asking for details regarding my son — thank goodness she now has earrings. So, I wonder, can’t we at least share and divide colors equally? It would be fairly easy, for example: Penis team gets blue, red and purple; Vagina team gets pink, green and brown.

On the other hand, as a graphic designer, I find a lack of pink in my job. It’s a color corporations, organizations or products, either business-to-business or business-to-consumer usually shy away from due to its female and girly connotations. So the modus operandi is that little boys are not “allowed” to use pink and corporations “choose” not to use pink. Or was the choice made for them by our ongoing stereotyping of pink? In doing a little research I am reminded that it used to be different:

“There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918

While several theories circulate as to how, when and why pink and blue were reverted, the change happened with the end of World War II, as women were targeted with everything pink: Lipstick, appliances and cars. Barbie’s birth soon after only reinforced the issue. So why is it that in a co-ed world we have such defined color associations? And how healthy is this?

With a corporate spectrum dominated by blue, I can’t help but wonder how the increasing globality of these companies is affecting the use of color across borders—thus affecting how pink is perceived with each generational change in the different parts of the world. Could we at least let pink be a part of a secondary palette, by letting go of these unhealthy strong convictions that limit us? Or should we be adding pink to a “soon to be extinct” list?

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PUBLISHED ON Jul.17.2008 BY bryony
Design Benign’s comment is:

I'm not a girly-girl at all. When I was kid I shunned all things pink, but now I'm starting to like the color again. I have a few pieces of clothing with splashes of pink on them, and I own a pink Nintendo DS. It's not because I'm becoming "girly", but because I think that pink is just a good color.

Pink is extremely versatile, depending on what shade you choose, and it goes well with a lot of other colors. I think designers are missing out on good color choices by shying away from pink. Of course part of the reason, which you mentioned, is the "girly" connotations the color has, but if it's used in more varied applications, would that change? I see a lot of blue in logos for tech companies, and I'm personally getting sick of that color.

Pink shirts were very popular for men in the 1950s, and (cherry blossom) pink is still considered a masculine color in Japan.

A very good book to read about how pink became a "woman's color" is "Pink Think" by Lynn Peril. It's one of my favorite advertising analysis books.

On Jul.17.2008 at 10:08 AM
Jesse’s comment is:

The top jersey the Giro D'Italia (Italian tour de france), is pink rather then yellow. But then again these are Europeans.

I'd ride a pink or magenta bike in a heartbeat.

On Jul.17.2008 at 10:14 AM
Able Parris’s comment is:

I am reminded of a great essay by David Byrne in the Flight issue of Cabinet Magazine where he argues that pink is great to calm people down, and was used in prisons to reduce the amount of fights that were breaking out. They actually had it down to the exact pink that was really effective!

I do love pink, though, and I am not afraid to wear it. Although, it would be good to point out that I was less secure about wearing pink before I was married to my beautiful wife...

On Jul.17.2008 at 10:44 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

I always said that when and if I had a child, I would use yellows, greens and oranges and avoid the blue/pink debacle all together.

Also, I have always admired how T-Mobile has totally rocked the pink in their brand.

On Jul.17.2008 at 11:33 AM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

In the skateboarding world images of masculine bravado are taken to cartoonish extremes. The subculture also enjoy (and generally expects) a heavy dose of sarcasm and irony in its visuals. For skaters, pink has long been the shot color many shoes, boards, shirts, and so on.

With the resurgence of pink as a "klassy kolor," the skateboarding industry has turned away from it, though we still get a dose of ham-handed metaphors for femininity (http://www.zeroskateboards.com/index.html) that are juxtaposed with images of activities that, if one made a mistake, could pretty easily kill someone.

Pink is the most gender-polarized color. Blue doesn't even come close. These associations can be pretty handy but shoot me now if I ever am relying on pink to target girls. It seems so...wrong.

On Jul.17.2008 at 11:38 AM
Duane King’s comment is:

I've never understood why, but it is interesting how a color became associated with gender. I, for one, am definitely not afraid to rock pink.

On Jul.17.2008 at 12:22 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

It is interesting to see the embrace of pink on an individual level, before it gets lost upon entering the corporate office.

I always said that when and if I had a child, I would use yellows, greens and oranges and avoid the blue/pink debacle all together.

If only more people would demand this from the stores, it might be possible. I started with that same train of thought and have since then surrendered my sword.

On Jul.17.2008 at 12:34 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

All I really like is black, and it is almost all I wear. I broke from habit yesterday and wore an olive-colored dress. All day long friends and colleagues asked me what was wrong and three people asked me if I was going to a funeral.

On Jul.17.2008 at 12:35 PM
Sergio’s comment is:

I think T-Mobile got forced into using when the Deutsche Telekom (germans) bought them out. And germans love their pink

On Jul.17.2008 at 01:06 PM
adam’s comment is:

thanks for this post, i have long been trying to explain to people that light blue used to be the color for girls and pink was for boys. i mean, red is the most violent, emotional color there is... anger, blood, red marks on your school tests for when you got something wrong, etc. back in feudal japan, the symbol of the warrior (the samurai) was the sakura (cherry blossom), which is pink and red.

i had a lavender work shirt and one time when i was walking to lunch some guys in a car yelled out (sarcastically, i assume) "nice shirt" to me. i almost flipped out but then i thought, "hey, it is a nice shirt." it was one of my favorites... it doesnt make me "gay," its just a freaking color! and it looked good.

also, you note that the girl=pink transition happened around the end of WWII. when the nazis put gay jews in concetration camps, they were identified by pink triangles. i wonder if this had any influence on the rest of the world and guys not wanting to be associated with pink anymore? but why didnt they use baby blue tringles?

On Jul.17.2008 at 01:23 PM
adam’s comment is:

oh, also, yellow is supposed to be the most mentally-stimulating color for a baby. so paint the room in yellow.

On Jul.17.2008 at 01:26 PM
Jessie’s comment is:

I also used to shy away from pink because I felt it labeled myself as a girly-girl, which I hated. Over the past few years I have been drawn to more things pink. I hadn't realized until now, but as far as my design work goes I have yet to use pink with any project that wasn't specifically targeted to teen girls.

I wonder if the merge of 'masculine' elements into trendy female fashion (boy cut jeans, skulls, black, etc) will eventually effect how we see pink. If even the girliest of girls are wearing skulls on their shoes, could pink be released from its girly connotations and move back to a coed color, or will it just begin to fade out all together.

Away from fashion and back to the corporate identity issue, I unfortunately still can't see myself successfully selling pink as the brand color for a client who isn't targeting girls (however now I am eager to try). As much as I believe in it, I feel like it would take a lot to convince others to brave breaking that barrier.

On Jul.17.2008 at 01:28 PM
Su’s comment is:

Once, when I was meeting someone, she showed up dressed in pink from head to two, including a little bow in her hair if I remember correctly.

She hated pink.

Turned out she'd woken up in a really foul mood and had determined to do that rather than something actually self-destructive.

On Jul.17.2008 at 03:17 PM
Chad K’s comment is:

It is also a dilemma, while bright pinks have made a comeback with Hipster and punk cultures and fashion, perhaps a throwback to the 80's, any sort of light pink has been associated with breast cancer:

There is nothing that says breast cancer in this logo but you know what it is:

This one just goes by the fact that everyone associates pink with breast cancer (it's almost like the Green trend, branding a movement):

If there is ever a gender-specific application of the color pink, I think this would be it.

On Jul.17.2008 at 03:25 PM
Andrej’s comment is:

Sergio, T-Mobile started in Germany as part of Deutsche Telekom's cellular phone service. Years after that they moved into the American market. Being German, I can say that Germans love their pink only as much as they love David Hasselhoff.

On Jul.17.2008 at 07:01 PM
Dan’s comment is:

Here's a pink bank:
Millennium Bank
It even says "It's all about love. It's all about you". Touching...

On Jul.18.2008 at 01:57 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

I live in a colony of old Bauhaus style buildings converted to condos (old, like in that they still have boiler systems) and, having recently been elected to the architectural committee, I'm trying to convince them to paint them all pink.

Not just any pink...(some pinks are awful - ie. Barbie Pink, Baskin Robbins Pink, etc.) What I like is Deco Pink because it has an atmospheric quality that changes with the sunlight. Wish me luck. The buildings are grey right now. Dead Soviet Politbureau grey.

On Jul.18.2008 at 11:19 AM
amyfidler’s comment is:

I agree with Pesky; the shade of pink makes a big difference in the connotation. I'm noticing that the pinks being adopted by corporations are at the magenta end of the spectrum and not at the lighter end (i.e. bubble gum or light pink)

On Jul.18.2008 at 06:27 PM
Inaudible Nonsense’s comment is:

The thing that is wonderful about pink is that it looks fantastic with orange and brown and even drab green. It can be part of this earthy palate and be very bold or be very meek with a pastel palate.

As for yellow, it is supposed to be stimulating (my nursery as a baby was yellow with a yellow gingham check) but in the same way it is supposed to be nerve racking (in other words it can over stimulate). I have read that you are supposed to paint your guest bedrooms in yellow so that your guests don't stay to long.

On Jul.18.2008 at 09:44 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

It would be hard to love pink as much as David Hasselhoff.

I used pink ink in a brochure twenty-some years ago. (Not T-Mobilish magenta; lighter than baby pink.) The printer hadn't mixed Pantone pastel inks so he decided to order it from the ink company. We didn't look at the formula but both assumed it was something like one part warm red, five hundred parts opaque white. When we opened the ink, it was dark, bright, and translucent. It looked like pureed raspberries. Don't even think about printing pink on anything but white paper.

Mark: Around the same time I painted my house--a late '20s Tudor style in Venice, California--a very light tint of pink. A neighbor asked if it was primer.

On Jul.19.2008 at 01:30 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

The color of an optimistic future

On Jul.19.2008 at 10:41 AM
Neil’s comment is:

At the Huntington Library in Pasadena two of the most famous paintings are "Blue Boy" and "Pinkie", both from the 18th century. Maybe the gender-color assumptions have shifted regularly over the centuries... before mass marketing could lock them down?

On Jul.20.2008 at 11:32 PM
marnie’s comment is:

Last summer's Print had an article about pink and blue, if I recall correctly.

I'm also a big pink proponent. I'm an in-house designer for a large non-profit whose logo is in Pantone 227. I love the way it looks with other bright colours, and the way it stands out against more subdued shades. It also looks great in a minimalist white setting.

One catch I've found, though, is the reluctance among the men at the top to use the colour to full effect in our branding. We have great pink flags our members can bring to events, which really stand out in crowd shots, but any time I suggest we design t-shirts, bandanas, water bottles, you name it, in our logo's signature colour the idea gets shot down because of the fear that men will refuse to wear or carry pink bumpf. The macho antipathy is so strong that our organization just built a new multi-million dollar headquarters and the logo on the outside of the building was rendered not in that striking raspberry hue, but in dull old navy blue. Shocking that people could be so afraid of a little pink they'd be willing to sacrifice the brand for it.

On Jul.23.2008 at 01:49 PM
BlueStreak’s comment is:

Quick notes from the BlueStreak home front:

Memphis is the home of the blues. The hot, hot blues this time of year. I call this the "heat that killed Elvis." And Elvis in his prime, in the home of the blues, picked a pink Cadillac Fleetwood as his cherry ride.

Another pink spectacle around here is the Pink Palace Museum. It's made of pink marble and has a fascinating origin and history, and it currently is a noteworthy natural science museum with a planetarium and IMAX theatre. Here's the wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Palace#Pink_Palace_Mansion. The guy that built it was sort of the first Walmart-style retail pioneer.

Personally I'm surrounded by pink — here at BlueStreak. One, and only one, of my identical twin children is infatuated with pink. Both kids were given gender-neutral names, like Adrian and Kelsey (not their real names), so they wouldn't be stereotyped by gender. The other twin is strongly bonded to yellow. It's been fascinating to watch this develop since they are genetically identical and have been raised in the same environment. Neither has earrings. Are they Boys? Girls? Gay? Straight? Does it matter? Well yes, in many ways it seems to make a difference.

On Jul.23.2008 at 03:34 PM
Sam Potts’s comment is:

Is the London 2012 logo pink or magenta?

There is also a great Sarah Vowell piece on This American Life about dressing goth and unintentionally achieving the highest degree of goth: pink.

I was reading this post today as it just dawned on me to use pink in my own site redesign. Pending how I feel about it in a week of course.

On Aug.01.2008 at 03:32 PM
AshleyS’s comment is:

I think that pink definitely goes through its phases. As a little girl, pink was the only color I grew up knowing. I was bombarded with the color pink. When I was around five years old I said enough was enough. I hated, loathed, and despised the color. I would not wear anything pink, or own anything pink, and when I had received gifts that were pink; yea, they got sent back. I’m not sure why I hated the color so much. I think it is because it was “girly,” and I wasn’t. I was more of a tom boy, who didn’t wear dresses, and liked to play in the dirt, and go hunting with my dad. Some fifteen years later, it began to grow on me again. I don’t mind it now. Now more than ever you see guys wearing it. It used to be that if a guy wore pink; he was gay. I think the color is slowly making a comeback, and shouldn’t be written off yet. As designers, I think it is up to us to break the pink/blue color associations, or what’s left. Certainly, the color does have its associations, with breast cancer, Barbie, T-Mobile, Victoria Secret, etc. However, more and more consumer products are being produced pink, than they were some years ago. If a company has/had a pink logo, I wouldn’t take them less serious just because of the color. If anything more power to them for stepping out of the box, and not being a follower. I actually think that I would remember a logo or a company’s name if it were hot pink, rather than almost any other color. And the more I think about it, why don’t we use the color pink more often? Is it because it still has a “girly” connotation, or because it’s not one of the seven colors of the rainbow? I’m not sure, but I feel that as things are changing, times are changing, and we are moving more towards multiculturalism, gay marriage, etc. that more things are starting to be socially accepted (the color “pink”). But as far as seeing a pink M&M, I don’t think we are quite there yet.

On Sep.29.2008 at 04:14 PM
K Feole’s comment is:

When I am creating a design I very rarely think about how my color choices might have different effects on people or how the colors may be directly associated with something else. I am usually more concerned with how the colors complement each other, avoiding the colors that contrast too much and also avoiding symbolic color combinations such as green and red, which go with the winter holiday season.

It has been proven that different colors can evoke different feelings and emotions in people. For example the color pink has been known to have a calming effect on people. I have heard that some sport teams have the locker room for the opposing team painted pink to keep the team calmer and less aggressive. The same goes for the interior walls of jails; they are painted pink to help keep inmates calm. Pink and feminine are usually associated with each other, just like blue and masculine are. I think one of the ways we can overcome these connections is to have designers, like ourselves, create more designs that include colors and the opposite associations. Men may not be wearing pink clothing because there isn’t a designer creating them so that they can be sold in the stores. I think the color pink is more associated with feminine things more than any other color is to something else, including blue and masculine. Pink will probably be the most difficult association to break in our society. In other cultures pink isn’t seen as feminine. Like Design Benign said pink is still considered a masculine color in Japan.

I think a lot of times we forget how some colors are associated with emotions or ideas. The color blue has been studied to do numerous things to people. Blue is usually associated with creating a feeling of serenity or even sadness. My psychology professor used to tell us to paint the room we do work in, blue. That it has been proven to help people be more productive. It also has been proven to lower a person’s pulse. The one thing I do not understand is why blue is used in so many logos. I especially do not understand why the color would be used in logos that target children. Seems like the last thing an advertiser would want is a child getting calm rather than excited when seeing their logo. Examples of this are the companies VTech and Playmobil. A lot of technology based companies use blue also and in this case I could understand it. For example Dell and Intel use blue in their logo and they might want people to feel that using their products is a low stress experience.

There are a lot of other color associations that many of us are and are not aware of. Red is associated with love and warmth, however can evoke excitement or anger. Purple is associated with wealth and wisdom. Green is associated with luck and health but can evoke jealousy. Yellow is associated with cheeriness but evokes frustration. Colors have so many meanings and so many associations. Those meanings come only from this one culture. Other cultures have their own meanings for colors. Overall I don’t think anyone has control on how colors can affect people. But our culture is responsible for the associations we give to colors and I think it is going to take designers to help break the tradition. In the future I will be more conscious on what colors I will choose for a design.

On Sep.29.2008 at 06:00 PM