I came across this fun game called Brandseen after it was featured in DesignTaxi. Brandseen, although the name doesn’t really give it away much, is essentially a colour memory test using the corporate colours of some of the world’s most well know brands. So if you’re a colour lover or a brand geek it should be right up your street. While being a fun 5 minute distraction it’s also an interesting test of colour perception, colour matching and colour memory. Although our memory for colour categories is quite strong, for example, we are more likely to remember that the label on some packaging was orange than what the text said, or that a car was blue rather than the make & model, our ability to pick out the exact shade of blue or orange is relatively poor. This rather lengthy quote (persevere, it’s worth it) by Josef Albers from his influential Interaction of Color, describes the problem:
“If one says “Red” (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different. Even when a certain color is specified which all listeners have seen innumerable times—such as the red of the Coca-Cola sign which is the same red all over the country—they will still think of many different reds. Even if all the listeners have hundreds of reds in front of them from which to choose the Coca-Cola red, they will again select quite different colors. And no one can be sure that he has found the precise red shade. And even if that round red Coca-Cola sign with the white name in the middle is actually shown so that everyone focuses on the same red, each will receive the same projection on his retina, but no one can be sure whether each has the same perception. When we consider further the associations and reactions which are experienced in connection with the color and the name, probably everyone will diverge again in many different directions. What does this show? First, it is hard, if not impossible, to remember distinct colors. This underscores that important fact that the visual memory is very poor in comparison with our auditory memory. Often the latter is able to repeat a melody heard only once or twice. Second, the nomenclature of color is most inadequate. Though there are innumerable colors—shades and tones—in daily vocabulary, there are only about 30 names.”
As it so happens Brandseen is is the perfect way to test this theory as this is precisely what the game entails, the first logo that appears in the game is the famous curly writing of Coca-cola, instantly recognisable worldwide. Except rather than the bright red which normally fills the characters, this version of the logo is grey. Alongside the image you are presented with a colour picker, similar to the one found in Photoshop and many other Adobe programs, where you have to choose the hue, saturation and lightness of the colour you think closest matches the true red of Coca-cola. Once you have settled on your chosen shade, the app calculates a percentage based on how close you were to their match and presents the colour as it should be. It then takes you through the other eight logos that make up the game, which range from batman to IBM. Dropbox was the one which seemed to catch me out the most, despite the fact I have their icon at the top of my screen, I know this is kind of cheating, but it was still wasn’t able to get it spot on. After a couple of goes I managed to get my average over the nine questions up to 91% which I think is fairly respectable for someone who just spent 2 years researching colour!
The app was developed by Kevin Xu, Cathay Lee and Ari Weinstein at Greylock Hackfest, where teams of hackers and programmers from top universities compete to develop new apps at Dropbox’s headquarters in San Francisco. Unfortunately, at present there are only the nine logos to have a go at, but apparently more levels are on the way and an iPhone app is also in the pipeline.
The app is obviously still in it’s infancy and it would be interesting to know what source material they obtain their starting colour values from and how they work out how close a match it is (although this will invariably involve some sort of algorithm that I have no hope of understanding). Colour consistency is both a brand guardian’s and printer’s nightmare and it gets even more problematic when you view colours on screen. I could go off on a tangent about this, as it was a key consideration for my own research, and is a variable that is difficult to control in an everyday setting, however I feel that that is a post for another day. I would love to see the app develop, with more logos included (there are enough of them out there, however copyright may be an issue), levels of difficulty, an element of randomness, a more detailed breakdown of your result, showing how close you were on hue, saturation and lightness. Having your colour selection side by side with the original would be a great tool for visual comparison and further consideration of the background colour would be worthwhile, as the intereaction of colours that are next to each other has a major influence of colour perception.
I also think that the app has enormous potential for research. I don’t know if the results of each game are currently being stored anywhere, although there is an option to share your score on Twitter. But if there was a way to collect and analyse the results generated by users the app could provide a very interesting source of data about how well different colours are remembered and for brands, how much of an impact their corporate colour has on the minds of consumers over other brands. Is it easier for people to remember colours from certain categories, or do we remember the gold of the McDonald’s M more easily than the purple of Yahoo purely through increased exposure? If, hypothetically shades of red are remembered more easily than shades of blue does this create a precedent for developing brand identities? What outcome would this have on a brand asset considered so important that some companies have gone to court to protect their corporate colour? I would like to hope that this type of investigation would not lead to a world where every logo was the same colour, as distinctiveness is a vital asset too, but it’s an interesting thought all the same, and one that I would like to see be the subject of further enquiry.