Look at the home screen of your phone and you'll probably see a ton of blue -- Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, all blue. Glance up at the real world and you'll notice much the same. GM, Ford, Intel, Boeing, and Walmart all represent themselves in blue too. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

What's going on here? Have all these brands fallen victim to some weird trend for blue logos, or is there a deeper reason so many diverse companies opted for essentially the exact same color for their branding? I recently stumbled on the fascinating answer to this question, and it's not fashion, it's science.

Why everyone likes blue

The appeal of blue, according to experts, isn't just a fad of the moment. How do we know? As early as the 1940s, when scientists started asking people about their color preferences, tons of people picked blue, Abigail Cain reports in Artsy. That was despite researchers asking thousands of people in hundreds of countries. It was a global phenomenon among young and old, the rebellious and the conservative, Eastern and Western.

Slowly, scientists started to work out why, and the answer was surprisingly simple. "According to research conducted by psychologists Stephen E. Palmer and Karen Schloss over the last seven years, the answer isn't found in our DNA," writes Cain. "Their study, published in 2010, posits that a person's preference for a given color can be determined by averaging out how much that person likes all of the objects they associate with that color. Your inclination for orange, for example, depends on how you feel about pumpkins and traffic cones and Cheetos, among other things."

"It turns out, if you look at all of the things that are associated with blue, they're mostly positive," Schloss explains to Cain. "It's really hard to think of negative blue things." On the other hand, wonderful blue things -- clear skies and crystalline seas, for example -- leap rapidly to mind and exist as a constant across cultures (everyone loves clean water and nice weather).

This is your brain on blue

Branding experts and designers are no doubt aware of this science, but this is not the only type of research nudging so many brands toward blue. The world's favorite color also has measurable effects on the body, Stephen Westland, the chair of color science and technology at University of Leeds, explained recently on the Conversation.

The post is filled with technical details for those looking for a deeper dive into the science, but for the layperson this is probably the most interesting bit: Using a cool gadget that floods a room with a specific color of light, Westland's research group "found a small effect of colored light on heart rate and blood pressure: Red light does seem to raise heart rate, while blue light lowers it."

This calming effect of blue has even been put to use in the real world in arenas other than branding. "In 2009, blue lights were installed at the end of platforms on Tokyo's Yamanote railway line to reduce the incidence of suicide. As a result of the success of these lights (suicides fell by 74 percent at stations where the blue lights were installed), similar colored lighting has been installed at Gatwick Airport train platforms," Westland relates, though he stresses more study is needed to verify the ability of blue light to calm the agitated.

The results of that research will no doubt interest Westland's fellow academics, but it seems the question is already settled among brands -- blue is far and away the world's preferred color, and it also has a pleasant, relaxing effect on people. No wonder so many companies in so many industries can't resist it for their logos.

Published on: Oct 27, 2017