Blue on white is unlucky?

Will the presence of strong superstitions in a culture negatively impact that culture’s ability to innovate?

Of course it is perfectly reasonable to expect a design to take into account the cultural context in which it will be used. Indeed, doing so may well be a critical factor to that design’s success. Can a culture however have so many rules and superstitions that they severely limit the emergence of alternatives?

Many many months ago, the agency I was working with designed a logo for a client. The logo was to be used in the Asia Pacific region including China. The client, upon receipt of this logo, decided to ask several of his contacts around the region for feedback. Apparently, blue lettering on white is the colour combination associated with death (in Chinese culture). It is supposedly most often seen in the lanterns used in Chinese funerals which had blue writing on white paper.

Not having been to any traditional Chinese funerals, the blue on white symbolism was unknown to me. I could not find a photo of said lantern on Google. And indeed the blue and white colouring is commonly seen on ceramic ware – but I have not come across a superstitious avoidance of these. Of course, superstitions don’t have to make any logical sense.

Interestingly, subsequent feedback from other designers in the regions seems to indicate that this is not as significant an issue as that client believed. This notwithstanding, we changed the colours of course.

I wonder how often, and to what extent, superstitions affect design decisions across the world. Is it any accident that the stereotypical (majority of?) brands visible in Chinese cultures are predominantly red with gold trim/highlights? Or that the many Chinese businesses not only have safe and conservative names, but also ostentatiously auspicious and almost-naively aspirational names?

How far has this fear of bad luck, fear of death, fear of being too different, fear of tempting fate, etc held back the progress of branding and design in cultures where superstitions dominate?

As organised religions have demonstrated amply throughout the centuries, superstitions can act as a progress brake. It discourages inquiry. It stops questions dead (with threats and simplistic pat answers.) It promotes censorship. It limits creativity and new thinking.

The Chinese do not have a monopoly on superstitions of course. They are present in, and affect different societies to different degrees on this entire planet. Is it time to look at what beliefs you are taking for granted? What superstitions are holding you back?

2 comments

  1. Leshanne Pretty said:

    This is fascinating. The first logo that came to mind with blue on white was one that I recognized for Lowe & Partners in China. Interestingly, they have chosen to keep the blue lettering even despite a recent logo re-design. I would love to hear some feedback from the ad industry within that market to see how business partners feel about that logo.

    http://www.loweandpartners.com/images/news/img_china_logo.jpg

    Lowe Partners China

  2. Zern said:

    Thanks for your comment Leshanne.

    I suspect neither the client nor the agency involved in the logo you linked to is particularly concerned about (or indeed may not be aware of) any potential unluckiness associated with the colour.

    Which is a good thing! We could all use more movement away from such superstitions.

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