Black and White and Red All Over: The Colors of Time

When it comes to colors, Time magazine is quite uniform and predictable. The newsmagazine uses three colors for everything that is not a photograph—black (or gray), white and red. Black is used for a majority of any printed word (or occasionally white if the page is inverted in color). Headlines, decks, captions, pull quotes, and body copy all are in black. The consistency is familiar but rarely boring, a point I made during the typography post.

"10 Essential Stories" in the Briefing section

Red is used for emphasis purposes only, such as the sub-headlines in the “10 Essential Stories” page or as an accent for title pages in the well, as in the singularity example above. There are some places, such as in the front of the book or section flags for the well, that red is consistently used issue-to-issue. Other times, however, red can be used as part of a caption, infographic or headline. In these cases red rarely is the only color used; it is almost always paired with black.

Since it is used minimally, red is successful as an accent color and truly stands out from the predominately black and white palette. Red adds interest to the page and draws attention to different parts of the layout without being overly obnoxious or eccentric. The consistency of the colors correlates wonderfully with Time’s overall approach to design, and therefore telling of the news. It is a reliable and respectable news source, and since it often deals with serious topics, having an overly outlandish color scheme would seemingly diminish the importance of these events.

Yellow used as a highlighter in the Briefing section

Time has also taken to using yellow in the non-well sections as a highlight color. These sections, such as the “Briefing” I discussed in last week’s field notes and was mentioned in class last Monday, often have a many different elements on the same page (as most roundup pages do). The yellow therefore works with red and the use of different typefaces and fonts within that typeface as a hierarchical element. While red is usually only used for a couple of words in a subtitle or infographic, the yellow is literally used as a highlighter color for larger sections of text.

The yellow honestly annoyed me the first time I saw it. I am a stickler for consistency, and I thought that it was a little random for yellow to just show up to the red and black party. As I have stared at this magazine, however, it has grown on me. The yellow is kept to specific sections and is rarely overbearing. It also does a nice job of breaking up pages that are busy and have a lot of different elements.

A darker, moodier Time cover

I love the use of black, white and red for a publication’s color scheme. They are three colors that can evoke different emotions when used in different ways. The covers of Time are a great example of this. The magazine has the option to create a very sinister and dreary cover by using a black background and white text. The red in this situation is menacing and used as a warning. With a black background on which to contrast, the iconic red border and red nameplate are threatening and suggest that something is amiss.

A happier cover using the same colors

Used differently, however, the trio of colors can take on a completely different meaning. A white background with gray or black nameplate can evoke happiness or hope. In the Obama/Reagan cover, red is used to suggest love and joy.

Reverse + image = emotional title page

Time takes this use of color to evoke certain emotions concept inside the book as well. This is usually done for well stories that always have at least a one page devoted to the title and image. While Time is masterful at using fantastic and powerful photographs throughout its issue, the use of color on these title pages compliments the emotions the images arouse. For the spread of the Cairo protests, the white words on the dark background suggest destruction and an ominous situation. It was not necessary to use a full range of drastic colors, typefaces or design. The image and contrast of black and white spoke enough.

The overly simple use of color in conjunction with design demonstrates Time’s personality. It is very organized and structured, as reliable in its appearance as its ability to tell the news. The simplicity allows for the content to speak for itself. Although the reader might originally be drawn in by the emotions of the colors or images, the structure of the magazine is very content-based with little to distract from the words. The colors do just enough to keep the readers interested with out diverting their attention away from the actual story, in my opinion the exact purpose of a news magazine.



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