Of all the elements of an identity, logo, symbols, typography, colour etc., it is colour which has perhaps the most fundamental impact.
One of the principle functions of an identity is to unite people of a common purpose. It creates a coherent banner for people within an organisation to gather. It identifies the entity to others and distinguishes it. It may separate or recruit.
The reason colour performs such a powerful role is that it is so deeply, culturally embedded in human society.
In a primitive society, our basic unit was the family – this perhaps extended to the clan or tribe. When meeting a strange individual it was vital to know if they were a member of your tribe – it could be a matter of life or death.
As groups became bigger – from coalitions of tribes up to the first stirrings of nations – recognition of identity became increasingly vital.
The first manifestations involved security, combat and military recognition. You wanted your comrades to know who they were fighting, to express to your enemies and friends who you were before decisions on conflict were made.
Long before literacy had spread, colour was a simple indicator – warpaint, bands of coloured material, even coloured plants or flowers, all became group symbols. As societies became more complex it was till colour that was a primary differentiator. Coloured flags and primitive uniforms were adopted and developed throughout military organisations as demonstrations of national and group identity.
We had ‘redcoats’, the ‘blue and grey’; these terms still pervade our language to identify organisations, the ‘boys in blue’, ‘red devils’, the ‘red army’, ‘green party’, etc.
Sports teams were quick to adopt ‘team colours’ as were street gangs.
Colour is so engrained in our cultural narrative that it’s hardly surprising that it’s so powerful a component of commercial, organisational and brand identities. If I mention a major brand, it is fairly certain that you will be able to visualise its corporate colours even if you may have to think hard about its logo or symbol – Coca Cola, Virgin, Caterpillar, McDonalds, Pepsi, Starbucks, Facebook etc.
Once we understand the vital role colour plays, that is almost hard-wired into our societies, then we can appreciate the importance of brand and corporate colours, and why we change and tamper with that element at our peril.