FInal Word

A. Michael Shumate

A. Michael Shumate

Four color process printing (CMYK) has been around for well over a century. Today many homes have their own color printers using the same color inks. Books, magazines and other printed materials are all about us, created with the true primary colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow, plus black.

Yet it is amazing that people are still being taught that red, yellow and blue are the primary colors. Not just in the homes of illiterate persons, but in the art programs of respected post-secondary institutions.

At least half of the books in print explaining color to artists continue to spread this misinformation, in spite of the fact that every one of those books are printed with magenta, yellow and cyan instead of red, yellow and blue. The majority of adults today were taught the “false primaries” in kindergarten. With few exceptions, the majority of kindergarten kids today are still being taught this false tradition.

It is incomprehensible to me that people refuse to give up concepts that clearly don’t work.

I often explain to friends that the real primary colors are not red, yellow and blue, but rather magenta, yellow and cyan. When I can, I show them a true color wheel with magenta, yellow and cyan along with red, green and blue.

I point out that blue is a combination of magenta and cyan. I prove to their own eyes that red is a combination of magenta and yellow. This means that red is not a primary color because it is made up of two other colors. Even then some will say something like, “But I like red better than magenta.”

I answer, “It doesn’t matter what you like. Red isn’t a primary color. It can’t be a primary if you can make it from two other colors.”

Sometimes I change tactics and ask them to remember how they were told as children that red and blue would make purple. But when they tried it with their crayons, red and blue did not make purple, but just a muddy purplish color. That is because the red already has yellow in it––a color far from purple. Neither did yellow and blue crayons make green. That is because blue already has magenta in it, a color opposite to green.

For some, their deep-seated guilt that they couldn’t get the primary colors to work for them was erased. They knew that it was because what they had been told about primary colors was wrong. It wasn’t their fault that the crayons didn’t work for them after all. This knowledge was a near miraculous insight, a breakthrough, an epiphany.

For a few others, they just could not accept what I told them about magenta, yellow and cyan. They had been brainwashed and couldn’t get past their decades of conditioning that red, yellow and blue were the primary colors.

I have even seen art books on color that show two different color wheels: one labeled “The Scientific Color Wheel” (with the true primaries shown) and the other labeled “The Artists’ Color Wheel” (with the false primaries shown).

Oh, really? Does the physics of light work differently for artists?


Light and color only work one way. It is the willful ignorance to think a certain group of people can have physics work differently for them.

,So it is with the Seven Deadly Sins of Logo Design. The reason why some things don’t work is rooted in physics also, from the way our vision works to the nature of our printing methods. These are physical facts and ignoring them won’t make them go away. These things aren’t so because I say so. They just are. All I have done is put in the time to discover them.

Hopefully, the thousands of examples in this book have helped you see the truth about these core principles.

You have a choice to make. You can decide that these things are nice, but you are going to continue to do your branding design as you have always done it. For most, that means hit and miss with their identity designs. Some work. Some don’t.

Or you can decide to really dig in and see if these principles are merely nice ideas or genuine principles that truly are immutable. Especially with the Seven Deadly Sins, if you violate even one of them, the identity you design will not work in some way that an identity ought to work.

Since design is not an exact science, but an art, by abiding by these principles, you will not be taking the joy out of creating, but rather, taking a short cut to more effective and better identity design.

Read these things again. Review them every time you do a new identity. Before long they will become a liberating path that will give your identities a more promising future.

A Shift in the Industry
I am not the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness. Many designers and companies are beginning to see that too often the “new trends” in logo design just don’t work—or at least they don’t work in enough situations where an identity should work. Hence, hundreds of logo redesigns have been made to correct their former flaws.

The cost of redesigning a corporate identity can be significant. But that is nothing compared to implementing the redesign throughout a company’s website, stationery, signage, business forms, vehicles and so much more. For a small or mid-sized company the expenditure can be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars; for a large company it will surely be in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

So many companies are realizing that their existing logos don’t work like they should. These business owners don’t know about the Seven Deadly Sins of Logo Design. But over time, they still see the effects of them, and are willing to pay to get rid of them.

It doesn’t matter where knowledge comes from; when we find true principles, we would do well to adopt them.

To those who see the validity of what I’ve presented in this blog, I say, it’s not enough to accept it. Any art form requires practice and discipline. But be assured: practice and discipline, over time, bring mastery. There is no need to grope one’s way blindly. Even so, the labor of branding design is labor indeed.

And when your branding design works, it doesn’t just feel great, you may have created something that will touch thousands of lives and be useful for decades, maybe even forever.

Adapted from Logo Design Theory: How Branding Design Really Works

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