Field Notes | The Economist | Color

The Economist’s color palette is red, blue and beige. Although used sparingly, red makes a strong impression on readers and serves as the magazine’s signature color. A little bit of red goes a long way toward giving this magazine personality and a unique visual identity.

On the cover, the nameplate’s white type reversed out of a red screen ensures readers can easily find The Economist on a crowded newsstand. The white contrasts sharply against the red and commands attention. Cover promos are sometimes contained in a blue screen, but the screen is light and not too saturated so that it does not compete with the nameplate. The cover also occasionally uses yellow type on a black bar or a black type on a yellow bar on a bar above the nameplate to promote special content. Even when designers use colors on the cover besides red, they work carefully to prevent them from clashing or fighting for attention.

Inside the magazine, section names also use the nameplate’s technique of reversing out of red. This serves a practical purpose of allowing readers to find sections quickly while flipping through the publication. If sections names didn’t use red, readers would have to pay more careful attention to page numbers, and it would take them longer to find what they were looking for. On pages that aren’t section openers, blue bars separate folio information from the rest of the content to help establish hierarchy

Kickers and dingbats at the ends of stories are also red, which pulls the reader’s eye across the pages. It makes the reader want to move from the red at the beginning of one story to the red symbol at its end.

The red rectangles on sidebars, as pictured below, are one of The Economist’s simplest and most elegant uses of color.

These small boxes of color are enough to create unity among pages. Sidebars contain a variety of types of information and come in many shapes and sizes, but all feel like they are part of the same magazine due to the red rectangles. The rectangles also serve as a point of entry into the sidebars—a sign to readers that says “start here” so they don’t feel overwhelmed by a long list of numbers or an intricate graph. They are a testament to the power of restraint in design. Designers could have chosen a thicker bar or a rule, but instead wisely decided to use the minimum amount of color necessary to create hierarchy and unity in the magazine.

The red, blue and beige color scheme also continues into photographs and illustrations.

Because it is a news magazine, certain photos that use other colors are included anyway if they tell important stories.

These photos are the exception, not the rule, so the magazine still seems cohesive and unified.

Overall, the use of color gives the publication a serious and authoritative feel. In North American and European cultures, red implies that people should pay attention, because what they are looking at is really important. Stop signs, exit signs, and fire extinguishers, for example, are red. When I see the color red, I feel like what I am looking at deserves my full and immediate attention. In addition, the restraint in the use of color prevents pages from becoming circus-like and unsophisticated. Designers use color thoughtfully to guide readers through The Economist so that they know the publication is working hard to deliver information to them in the clearest, most compelling way possible.