Viridian Green : Colour Anti-Specification

The focus of contemporary corporate identity is colour. In a corporatist society such as ours, how corporations see colour is how we are all expected to see colour. What are the implications of this?

Colour, in reality, is an infinitely complex and varied set of subjective human experience. To fit colour into their reductionist worldview, corporations try to nail colour down - to redefine it as something that can be owned and controlled.

"Blue is modern and cool, exciting and dynamic, and most importantly, it's a color that powerfully communicates refreshment," said Mr. Swanhaus [Pepsi-Cola Company's senior vice president of international sales and marketing] "Ultimately, we believe that owning blue will give us a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace".

http://pepsico.pcy.mci.net/web_pages/pcnews5.html (emphasis mine).

Their methods for doing this are primitive and anti-poetic, but have become widely accepted as the contemporary way of seeing colour - hues are specified according to the constraints of filthy, industrial revolution technologies, based on poisonous dyes and clanking machinery.

Each corporation has its specific colour defined as a number in the Pantone Matching System (PMS), which corresponds to a particular cocktail of chemical dyes, and as a Process Colour, setting out which proportions of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black inks will mix to give the closest approximation.

Why is this way of seeing colour not Viridian?

For a start, it is tied strongly to the old, dirty technologies of the past. It violates the principle of Less Atoms, More Bits. The move away from atoms can be facilitated, as a first step by specifying colours in RGB, the colour space of the screen, which has the added benefit of allowing a far wider and more vibrant pallette.

Ever wonder why those Chagall prints in the glossy art books still don't come remotely close to looking as good as the real painting? One of the factors is the pusillanimous colour gamut of CMYK - particularly in the blue range.

A second step might be to specify colours in a way that more accurately conveys reality - the Virtual Reality Modelling Language (www.vrml.org), for example, allows for ambient intensity, diffuse colour, specular colour, emissive colour, shininess, transparency, and texture. My version of Big Mike was specified thus, and it seems to me to be a step in the right direction.

But beyond that, the old way of seeing colour is an example of humans expending tremendous energy on fighting reality, denying evidence in favour of institutional demands.

Colour just doesn't work like that. You can't pin it down. Colours look dramatically different depending on the light, what other colours are nearby, the surface they're on, the angle of view... We try to fight this with bleached white paper, corporate identity application guidelines demanding X cm of white space on all sides of the logo, and ever more byzantine colour matching systems.

So what would be a more Viridian way to look at colour? How do we specify Viridian Green?

Let us recognise the diverse, complex nature of colour. Let us see that a true green is made up of a multitude of yellows, blues, of minute fractal diffusion patterns of infinite hue. Let us celebrate the fact that colours don't live in a context-free, bleached-white void.

Embrace ambient, diffuse, reflected colour! Revel in scattered, refracted light! Throw off the outmoded machine-age world-view - reject the poisonous dyes and hungry machines of old! It is necessary that we destroy the machine aesthetic and the modernist denial of the world. Just as the modernists were forced to cast off the cloying layers of excessive ornamentation, we must throw aside their fetish with inappropriate technology.

Viridian green pulses with internal bio-luminesence. It is refracted endlessly through a shifting fractal lattice of pure information. It cannot be specified, only experienced.

Viveka, Sydney, 1998