They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, designers are quite generous with their compliments, especially when it comes to brand logo colors and, by extension, mobile application icons.
Open your smartphone home screen: See a lot of blue? We thought so. In entrepreneur and blogger Stuart Hall’s “The Colors of An App Icon,” he plots the top 200 free iOS apps by color and finds a particularly large cluster of blue apps, followed by red. The list continues on with green, pink, purple, and finally, trailing far behind, yellow.
Blue seems particularly popular in tech and digital applications. The logos of Skype, Venmo, Facebook, GroupMe, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all a similar hue, and the music application Pandora recently changed its logo from a white background with a thin, dark blue “P” to a thick, light blue “P” icon in which blue takes up most of the space. Pandora rebranded to herald in the new experience of Pandora Plus, which competes with Spotify, YouTube Red, and Amazon’s streaming music services by getting rid of advertisements. If that’s the case, why would the company take a step to blend in, rather than try to stand out?
There’s a very simple reason corporate branding teams have the blues. The primary color is the most common favorite color across cultures, genders, and ages, making it attractive to brands looking to appeal to a wide audience. Shades of blue convey a sense of calm, trust, and openness, while colors such as purple, yellow, and orange are associated with things that are unusual, youthful, and weird, respectively.
Blue, in other words, is a safe choice for designers—closer to neutral than neutrals. Early app developers chose the color to smooth their foray into the mobile ecosystem and foster trust among digital users. As they became successful, other companies followed their lead.
Of course, not everything is blue. Dynamic media apps, such as Netflix, YouTube, and iHeartRadio, and healthcare apps such as Walgreens and CVS often rely on red. The best-known yellow app is Snapchat, the color of which matches the targeted user base– millennials and younger–and conveys a sense of creativity that is important to the company’s core values.
Tried and True
So why do some apps, such as Pandora, choose to camouflage themselves in this sea of blue? Beyond using blue as a neutral color, some brands use it to symbolize various natural and man-made elements. Tony Calzaretta, Pandora’s VP of Design stated in a blog post about the logo change; “As Pandora continues to evolve the most personal music experience, our new look embraces the dynamic range of sound and color, visualizing the energy and emotion that artists pour into the creation of music, and that we feel as listeners.”
The intriguing nature of blue is that it doesn’t only symbolize neutrality or technology, but can also symbolize movement, life, and expression. Different shades and tones of blue can connote many different things for many different people – which is perhaps why so many of us consider blue hues to be our favorites.
Coloring Between the Lines
Whether your icon is the same color as that of all your peers or a standalone nonconformist, understanding the needs of your user and the message the app conveys is the key to creating an icon that stands out in the smartphone jumble.
For new businesses launching an app or companies considering a rebrand a la Pandora, here are two quick recommendations to consider when developing logos and color schemes:
- Notice the colors of other icons in your industry
- Finance companies often use green (symbolic of money), whereas tech companies often lean towards blue and grey.
- Research color and symbol preferences
- While white symbolizes purity in the United States, it represents death in China. Ensure that your meaning is conveyed correctly to your audience.
Though there seems to be an excess of blue apps, it would be foolish to claim that they are all the same, or that their color is representative of similar concepts. Whether choosing a color that sticks to the status quo or going for a more vibrant image, brands need to weigh the many reasons behind a logo color, and make sure their choice is true to their brand.