Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seeing Green

Julia Turner has a nifty little article about how magazine editors avoid the color green on their covers. And nobody knows why.

It's not just magazines. In the book publishing industry, one occasionally confronts the same prejudice (and this was particularly true during the 1980s, when I began my career as a book and direct-mail designer). As Turner notes, the most bizarre aspect is that it's a prohibition that has never (to my knowledge) been backed by evidence. In an industry that is focus-grouped to death, Turner assumed there was proof, but
I was surprised, then, that when I asked the research arms of magazine publishing houses and independent consultants whether they had data showing that green suppresses newsstand sales, the answer was no.

I was a rebel (and not the only one) against this so-called standard; a small number of designers held that, because green was so rarely used, green covers really stand out (which makes all the difference on the crowded shelves of a bookstore.) I remember a meeting where I held up copies of James Carroll's Mortal Friends and John Fowles's Daniel Martin as two best-selling examples by maverick designers. Many of my early (and best) book covers were green, and my first brochure ever to win an award was a rich metallic copper green. Truth be told, after a few successes, I never heard any complaints from either authors or editors, and now, it seems, green book covers are no longer unusual.

An explanation I commonly heard was that blue appeals to women, red appeals to men, and green appeals to nobody. This sound-bite theory of non-sequiturs held weight mostly because the first two premises were, and are, so widely held. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced, as this summary indicates. Depending on the circumstance, blue is preferred by both sexes, but

According to a 1964 Color and Gender study, women favored blue-green (aka turquoise) more than men. This same study found that "76% of women preferred cool colors." and turquoise is a mix of the two cool colors of blue and green.

Still, green always "tests" well among both sexes. In addition, this online survey found "48% of the study participants preferred blue over yellow, red, and green" for Web site colors, with very little distinction between the sexes. (Interestingly, there is research for children's books that indicates green is ranked near the bottom, beating only black and yellow, while purple tops the list as the favorite.)

But, clearly, not everything can be (or should be) blue. Like any other prejudice, the case against green has always been one without much rhyme or reason.