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Google, Microsoft, eBay (and some other corporate companies) use 4 colors in their logos: Blue, Red, Green and Yellow.

Logos from: Google, Microsoft, eBay

How does it help their branding? And for which kind of companies does it work. too?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Devin, Evil Closet Monkey, Matt Obee, DA01, DasBeasto Sep 14 '15 at 18:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Note that a very simple answer is "there are only four colors!" – Fattie Sep 14 '15 at 14:56
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    @FlorianPeschka We only perceive variations in four colours, and luminance (white/black). Our visual system interprets two sets of opposing colours, that is why we don't perceive yellowish-blues or greenish-reds. Of course, linguistically we've devised words to describe variations in those colours. (Pink is a washed-out red, orange is reddish-yellow, purple is reddish-blue etc.) I think that's what Joe means. – ghoppe Sep 14 '15 at 15:18
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    Illuminati confirmed? – Canadian Luke Sep 14 '15 at 16:27
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    Struggling to see the UX angle here... – Matt Obee Sep 14 '15 at 16:29
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    @JoeBlow Don't get me wrong I like any questions delving into color theory and I love tohsters answer but this question simply doesn't fit in UX. This question is much more related to marketing and brand recognition, I doubt you can ever ask a user "What enhanced your experience on this site?" and have them respond "It's logo has those 4 colors in it" – DasBeasto Sep 15 '15 at 13:10
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There are several design reasons

  1. The colors are complementary - The four colors are roughly evenly spaced across the color wheel, which is a basic approach to creating complementary colors. Technically, this approach is called using a tetradic color palette. For more, you can read about color theory. enter image description here

  2. Colorful palettes create a sense of openness, diversity and optimism, which are positive for a consumer brand. The following chart shows some of the alternative approaches to using color to create user brand experiences:

    enter image description here

    • With color selection, often the qualities/attributes communicated by color are subjective, but the side-by-side chart above is helpful because it allows you to see the difference in "feel" between different palettes.
  3. Color is excellent for global brands. There are several reasons for this.

    • Using a diverse and bold color palette helps brands to communicate an open approach to global cultures, race (skin color), preferences, and ideas.
    • Using multiple colors allows brands to avoid cultural taboos that may arise from focusing on one specific color. For example, red may symbolize luck in the east but "warning" in the west. Green may be patriotic in Ireland but forbidden in Indonesia.
  4. Color stands out - For consumer brands which advertise on TV, billboards and multimedia, a colorful brand helps a logo stand out for attention in a sea of other brands consumers are exposed to. enter image description here


It may help to see a side-by-side comparison of colorful logos vs monochromatic logos. Here are some prominent global brands using colorful and then monochromatic colors.

enter image description here

  • You will see that the monochromatic palette communicates a sesne of prestige, seriousness, neutrality and focus, whereas colorful palettes tend to communicate a sense of playfulness, openness, informality, and creativity.

  • Note that visual layout often mimics the color palette....the logos on the left have deliberately dissonant layout...rough edges, irregular shapes or abutting characters. These are all designed to enhance the sense of playfulness that the color palette communicates.

  • Although it's a subject for a longer post, I deliberately included the "old" and "new" versions of the Microsoft and Apple logos....you can see how the brands have evolved their color messaging as Microsoft has sought to become a friendlier global consumer brand and Apple has evolved into a premium/aspirational consumer technology company.

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    "Colorful palettes create a sense of openness, diversity and optimism" = do they really? I know that sounds nice and something I'd hear in a brand pitch meeting. But it also sounds a like like PR speak. :) – DA01 Sep 14 '15 at 18:28
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    I'm failing to see any pattern at all here. Especially with the brands in item 2. What about Cartoon Network is "Balanced Calm and Neutral"? Or what of Exxon screams "Excitement"? Seems like a lot of force fitting here. You can spin the color of clack of color or the presence of certain colours any way you want. – Brad Sep 14 '15 at 18:29
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    FYI, some trivia on some of those color logos. The original apple logo had multiple colors to be seen as luxurious. At the time it was very expensive to manufacture those logo emblems in so many colors. NBC's logo was also one of prestige, as they used it to show off the (then new) 'color' broadcasting. In otherwords, the use of color was to communicate a sense of prestige – DA01 Sep 14 '15 at 18:31
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    I think it is false to link these colors and logos. Google would probably be just as popular with a black logo. They are popular because they make decent products not because their logo has 4 colours. Did IBM fall out of favor in the PC world because they refused to be "Big Rainbow"? – Brad Sep 14 '15 at 18:48
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    @tohster I don't know that color would make a huge difference to the 'popularity' of the google logo. The popularity of the google logo has more to do with the fact that it's the google logo. In other words, the success of a logo is typically more in the hands of the company itself. Like Brad says, though, I'm not arguing that the logo is good or bad with or without color. I'm just saying that the 'color x means y' is often just mostly nice sounding BS said by the person trying to sell the logo. :) – DA01 Sep 14 '15 at 19:07
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I guess they use these colors because they form the "4 unique hues".

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unique_hues

I would not go so far as to attach a certain meaning to this. While colors do have a certain psychological meaning, there is no argument to assume that those are the reasons for their choice. It could be anything ranging from purely esthetical reasons to personal preferences mixed with historical reasons. There is also no need to assume that the reason for the choice are the same for each company you mentioned. The only way to really find out would be to address these different companies and ask them.

As for Microsoft, the idea behind their logo is, according to Microsoft general manager, Jeff Hansen:

"It signals the heritage but also signals the future — a newness and freshness."

And also posted on their blog is:

"The symbol's squares of color are intended to express the company's diverse portfolio of products."

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-unveils-new-logoheres-a-history-of-the-designs-evolution-2012-8?op=1&IR=T

They do not explain why they chose exactly these 4 colors.

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    For Microsoft, heritage but also signals the future is related to the smilarities with the prevous logo (that already was four color but with a different shape) – edc65 Sep 14 '15 at 12:36
  • @edc65: Good point; I would add that Microsoft has used this four-colors-in-a-square pattern for decades for Office: logos.wikia.com/wiki/Microsoft_Office. It is easy to see how the Office 95 logo came about: the various programs in Office all work together to create a whole greater than its parts, as do the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. – Eric Lippert Sep 14 '15 at 14:12
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    Even the Windows 3.1 logo had that color arrangement, albeit embedded in a black flag. I found a Windows 95 commercial which features the four colored squares, looking almost identical to the new logo. – CodesInChaos Sep 14 '15 at 15:12
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    It should also be noted that often "x represents y" is a contrived thing after the logo has been made. In otherwords, lots of time meaning is given to a logo after the fact. – DA01 Sep 14 '15 at 18:33
  • @ DA01: That is VERY true! – Bart Gijssens Sep 15 '15 at 7:52

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