Three colours: orange

Three colours: orange

10 August 2016 |
Posted in Colour

“Orange is thought to evoke feelings of warmth and security, passion and fun”

2016 saw reports of a seagull falling into some discarded curry, dyeing its feathers orange. But this, it seems, may not have been the seagull’s colour of choice. Birds have good colour vision and, according to Bird Channel, they have preferences and aversions. It’s a colour that divides opinion in humans too, yet it’s used more and more. Here’s why.

Designer orange

Of all the colours, orange is thought to evoke feelings of warmth and security, passion and fun. Its playful, energetic connotations are attractive to children, with some research suggesting the colour encourages independence and positive behaviour.


The colour is also a design favourite. Some of the world’s biggest brands have built their businesses on orange logos – Harley Davidson, MasterCard, Penguin Books, Shell, TNT, Amazon, easyGroup (easyJet) and Sainsburys to name a few. Mobile network operator Orange was launched in the early 90s with its “warm and friendly” name, logo and the optimistic slogan, “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange”. It quickly became the UK’s biggest mobile service operator.


We chose orange as the main corporate colour for the London Egg Bank

So why does the colour orange work for these brands? According to Kissmetrics, orange is not necessarily favoured by women or men. But it’s good for stimulating physical activity and confidence. The big orange button (BOB) is widely referred to in marketing circles as the best kind of call-to-action button because people just can’t help but click it. Some say it’s because orange is highly visible, easier to focus on and makes objects look larger and closer. (The Telegraph says the Flymo lawnmower, which was once blue, turned orange in the 70s because consumers said it was easier to see in the grass.)

Orange is also said to make us hungry, and in some cases, brands use it to make expensive items seem less expensive. The danger here is it can also translate to cheap – in the US, bright orange is often used by retailers to promote bargain basement-style offers.

Safety orange

The book The Building Environment: Active and Passive Control Systems says that painting grey machinery light orange has been known to decrease accidents and improve morale.

But it’s most likely the colour is effective for safety because it’s so visible - an ideal warning colour. Construction sites and road signs, traffic cones, high-visibility clothing and other safety symbols are often a vivid ‘safety orange’, offering maximum visibility against background colours of sky, roads or railway lines. Aircraft black boxes are bright orange because they’re easier to locate.

The blog Capturing User Attention with Colour explains that orange is ideal in safety situations not just because of its brightness but also because we associate it with safety. Apparently, the attention the colour prompts us to make decisions faster. And it’s that unconscious decision making that’s such good news for those with orange e-commerce buttons.

Bitter orange

Oranges - the fruit - were not named for their colour but rather the other way round. The name for the fruit existed before the colour and eventually the colour was named in its honour. According to The Guardian, the word appeared in the English language in the 13th century when referring to the bitterness of the fruit, and, by the 16th century, was finally used to describe a colour. Before oranges were orange, their colour was referred to as geoluhread (yellow-red).