Friday, August 17, 2012

The Most Unappealing Color


Recently the Australian government announced its new rules for making cigarette packaging as unattractive as possible. 

Instead of allowing distinctive corporate logos, the packages must use a generic type font called Lucida Sans. They must show photos of the diseases caused by smoking. And every package must be printed in Pantone 448C.

The government hired a research firm to come up with the most unappealing color possible. The company conducted studies with nearly 1000 people to find out what color suggests low quality and lack of appeal. The research firm then recommended a drab greenish-brown hue that is far away from the bold reds and blues that have been used traditionally in cigarette packaging.

Is Pantone 448C truly the most unappealing color? This brings us to a question artists continually face: Is there such a thing as a disgusting color, or is it all a matter of context? Are greenish-brown colors the kiss of death in painting? 

I wondered if any great artists used this color successfully. 

I don't know if this reproduction is accurate, but Velázquez uses something close to 448C. It contrasts with the pinks of the face and the red of the hair piece.


Thomas Dewing often used a greenish palette. In "Lady in White," there is no red. The background is slightly gradated. The dress is painted with pale blues and yellows, and the seat cushion tends toward yellow green.


Van Dyck's portrait of Horace Walpole uses large areas resembling Pantone 448C for the background and the book, with adjacent red-browns at close to the same value.

What do you think? Were any of them successful? What is your personal reaction to 448C? Please share your reaction in the poll at left and thoughts in the comments.

Addendum--Here are the poll results to the question: "What is your reaction to Pantone 448C?":
4% Disgusting,
20% Mild dislike,
7% No reaction,
18% I like it,
27% I love it,
39% It all depends.

Bloomberg report on new packaging and how it was decided upon.
Previously on GurneyJourney: The Mud Debate

50 comments:

Erik Bongers said...

I can paint you the skin of Venus with mud, provided you let me surround it as I will." -- Eugene Delacroix

(actually, I'm sure I first read this quote on this blog...)

Teresa Rodriguez said...

This is TOO funny!!
I just used a color very close to that in an illustration for a company ad. Of course, the subject matter was something with a brass-like finish, and there was light, shadow and texture involved. It turned out well, and everyone liked it.

And now I see this post. *Still giggling*

I think cigarette cases are going to come back in style in Australia.

Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

I don't know that I would have thought about it this way before you pointed it out, but I think my reaction to that color in these works is actually negative. The Velasquez has an unfinished quality about it that I think can be attributed to the background. Of course, the background is fairly flat and uninteresting, so that's part of it too. A more typical Velasquez background is more of a vignette, but this one doesn't have that "enclosing" quality.

The Dewing definitely looks unfinished, but that may be a stylistic thing.

The Van Dyck uses the least of this color, and I think uses it the best; it works much better on smaller areas than large, in my opinion, and as part of an interesting structure like the book rather than an abstract wash.

Erik Bongers said...

And if I really have to pick a color I'd dislike very much, it would be a venomous cold green. Pantone 3268 C

Steve said...

I feel it's primarily a matter of context and secondarily quantity. I've seen interior walls painted a color similar to this. Woodwork and reddish brown objects -- including framed artwork -- can look striking against it.

Daroo said...

Wow my monitors are off.

This seems very close to the color that David A. Leffel recommends painting studio walls to complement skin tones.

CoryJay said...

Sorry, impossible to tell with art like this, meant to be seen in person. This is what drives me nuts about Apatoff's site. He frequently compares examples of illustration art, designed to be seen reproduced, usually reduced in size, to "fine" art works, also reproduced and reduced, thereby working against the latter's strengths and their creators' intentions. Surprise, surprise, the illustration art comes off stronger!
Anyway, for this discussion best to find illustration examples, which by definition would be designed to compensate for varying qualities of reproduction--hopefully.

Nanina d'Onofrio said...

The color works in the examples you show. I picked "it depends" in the poll because...it does.

I agree with Teresa. Australian smokers will just repackage their smokes or just ignore the new pack design. The new look may even become cachet.

Sara Otterstätter said...

This reminds me of the attempt of Alko in Finland to prevent the people from drinking Alcohol. Owned by the finnish government, they are the only source for hard alcohol in Finnland.

And up to the 80s they tried to prevent the pepople from drinking by designing the markets rather brownish dark and unattractive and with signs that explained the bad outcomes from heavy drinking.

The bags, where the bottles were wrapped, were in a similar tone like the Pantone 448C. If my remembering is correct. Some time went by, since the last time, I saw them. And the bags were very good puking bags. Childhood memories.

Okay, back to the topic, if there are unappealing colors or if it is more a question of context. I would go more for the context. Extreme pink is a wonderful color on flowers. Old pale ladies in extreme pink nylon trainers on the other hand look horrifying.

And in case, someone asks themselves, if the Finnish government was successful with their programe to prevent the people from drinking with unappealing Alko shops? No, they weren't. People in Finland still like to drink alcohol. Very much. Despite the extreme prices.

hüth said...

While unstated, it seems pretty obvious that the designers intention is to make the package look, literally, like crap. Instead of a flat colour, adding slight distressing resembling mold, water damage or noise that resembles dust or grime might help.

Karen said...

Funny, my aunt's foyer is painted a similar color to this and it's beautiful! It's perhaps less green and more neutral-khaki but the similarities between the colors is striking.

Context is huge in determining what colors are really garrish and which are really beautiful. I have a feeling that this color, out of context like it is, can be taken as a pretty unappealing color - but also have a feeling that this color probably occurs fairly often in leaves, mosses, lichen and ground ground covers in forests that people generally consider to be very beautiful.

Sara Trujillo said...

Without a context, that color reminds me scatological matters, so I agree with Australian government :-P

By the way, it's 'VeláZquez' with 'z' (he was from Spain).

HKP said...

Even nonsmokers will be exposed to the packaging--secondhand ugliness!

PatternGhost said...

In the paintings you have shown, that color seems to chase my eyes away from it to the more important subject matter. Perhaps the color is a bit boring, but serves I think it serves its purpose by not competing with the figures.

The whole discussion raises another point for me: is well executed figurative art desirable as common decoration for anyone but a trained artist? Most people seem happy to decorate with patterns and abstract shapes. I often see art I find compelling but can't see it hanging in a home.

Del Swanson said...

Psshaw! I'm going to use it in my next illustration just because of that article.

Poet Whale said...

What I saw last night on TV is a color like a light pergatory green. I see now it's actually a dark green. Drab green is one of my favorite colors.

The ruling on the packages should have gone with the black of actual smoker's lungs.

Eileen Keelan said...

Personally I like this colour as it's real'earthy' to me but as a negative colour for advertising cigarettes, it would probably work or that awful 'mousy' brown more-so I think!

LuckyAmericanFilms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LuckyAmericanFilms said...

Made me think of this:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealIsBrown

Steve Hall said...

Ha, that's the color of cured tobacco!

Kerry said...

Nonsense! It's beautiful!

I would have chosen phthalo green to send people running.

Lindsay said...

I'm afraid they might be unintentionally creating a brand identity. People who enjoy cigarettes will associate the color with cigarettes, and the color will become associated with positive feelings in their mind. Any color can make people happy if it is associated with something they like. That is why some civilians wear greenish brown army stuff, and why UPS has not changed their signature color.

SulaMoon said...

I think it´s actually a very commom color for paiting - I've used it so much.

But at the same time - probably our perception is a really biased? I am not sure we would really have a color prejudice - or just use the color that works on the paiting, right?

Alison said...

I like it. I have a skirt about that color. But I've always liked muted earthy colors. Having said that it does look a bit like something found in a diaper.

Erin / Miri-love said...

It's definitely not my favourite colour, and the paintings are well-executed, but also not on my short list of favourites.

I wonder how this new experiment with cigarettes will turn out... haha, I'd love to see them try that in America! People would flip.

As always, great post!

nystudios said...

Interesting too that it is color of military fatigues past and present. For me, nothing is more ugly than war, how appropriate then that the two are wed.

Clémence Liberge said...

I don't think there's such a thing as a "pretty" or "ugly" color. What matters is how that color interacts with other colors. I think the examples you showed are quite attractive in that sense.

Alex Castillo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Castillo said...

There is no such thing as ugly colors, there are however hideous ways in which people make use of them. One of my favorite paintings by the master of masters William Adolphe Bovgvereav "Nymphs and Satyr" was exquisitely done in a range of hues similar to the one presented here.

Rich said...

I like to look at the choice of olives at the supermarket.
I'd call this olive green - goes quite well with all kinds of muted pinks.

lunavalse said...

Ha! That is the current color of my desktop background behind the images.

Johan Derycke said...

Hehe I asked myself the same question upon hearing it on the news.
Glad you came up with some examples of this color in usage...

Such a subjective matter anyway, color. Everyone experiences color in his or her own way, but I guess Pantone 448C was the least popular color during the test...

Ezra said...

Fascinating! I must say that I find this color very unappealing! I wonder if we associate it with feces, urine and vomit. However, I do believe it can be painted in an appealing way when used in the proper context of other colors.

Janet Oliver said...

Oops. My newest painting is all about this color.

Janice said...

I absolutely love this colour. I think what is most important in thinking about the colour psychology of it though, is the mental attachment of the colour to smoking > coughing > phlegm. In that case....a great graphic designers choice linking the product to the result. ;)

JaneBucci said...

Pantone 448C may not be lovely, but it does have its uses.
The well known portrait painter, (still alive!) Daniel Greene, uses a large wooden palette that he intentionally painted a base color VERY much like Pantone 448C. It seems to be the perfect foil for most healthy skin tones ...

JaneBucci said...

Daniel Greene's palette painted and seald seems to match Pantone 448C

http://underpaintings.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

JaneBucci said...

Daniel Greene's palette painted and SEALED seems to match Pantone 448C

http://underpaintings.blogspot.com/2012_06_01_archive.html

Beth said...

I like the color. It's a bit more to the green shade, but it reminds me of the packaging on the Pall Mall cigarettes my grandfather smoked.

xenides said...

You need to see the colour in context with the full-colour images of typical smoking related diseases. Google image for "australian cigarette packs" gives examples. A picture of a mouth or oesophogeal tumour does not add the element of cool you imagine.

Kiana Fecteau said...

That's funny! I was just thinking this morning that puce (that brownish-purple, purplish-brown color)might be one of people's least favorite colors. But who can disagree with a survey of 1000 people in Australia?

Personally, I don't think that green is so bad. I can see that color within the landscape outside my window here in the northwestern United States. Maybe it's a bit garish in the environment of Australia. I think that color, as well as puce, would work well in the right context and setting.

Patrick said...

I find it interesting James because I always use this "scatalogical" color to paint gold.It's also one of the color I would use to paint a dried leaf of tobacco.

Michael Pieczonka said...

I think there's a reasonable possibility the reason why we as humans might find this particular colour most unappealing.. is because it is the colour that best approximates the colour of poop?!?! No joke!

Ravi Gupta said...


this is their random guess. nothing is disgusting. its all in perception. i myself painted a self portrait with something close to this color.
http://ravigupta88.blogspot.in/2012/05/self.html
i dont know about others but i love this color.

Roberto said...

So… I’m posting this from my raw umber colored family room (actually closer to pantone 450-c), trying to recall a painting I saw at ‘the Frick’ in N.Y., by Titian, of a man in a leather cap and a fur-collar, needless to say it was stunning!
What the Design Committee fails to realize is that the raw umber colored packaging appears drab when compared to the brightly colored packaging designed by the ‘Mad-Men.’ If your Monkey wants Tobacco, and all the tobacco is brown with a scull-and-cross-bones on one side and a radiation-hazard logo on the other, your screamin’ Monkey will happily choose the brown box, and you will pay whatever price + tax + surcharge + handling fee + re-stocking charge + moral-penalty in order to keep your particular Monkey happy, because you are a rugged individualist, and no pinko-bureaucrat is gonna tell you what to do! (unless of coarse there is competition for your eyeballs, in which case you might choose the chartreuse box, pantone 382 C, with the smiley-face.)
As far as ugly colors are concerned… Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder… but ugly is in the mishandling of the pigments. Whenever I find myself avoiding certain colors or color groupings I will intentionally start using those colors and playing around with them to find out where their power lies and discover how to use them to their best advantage. -RQ

Theresa Grillo Laird said...

Color preferences are so personal and so likely to change over time. When I was in Kindergarten, purple actually made me feel angry to look at.I don't see how anycolor can be called universally unappealing.

Anonymous said...

I know what will make it even more unappealing. Comic Sans/Papyrus typefaces!

Anonymous said...

I think it all depends about the context. For me, this color itself, is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thing is, if you are addicted nothing will stop you.

sara star said...

It makes a lovely background color, or a color for an object that recedes. And it will be a nice foil for the pictures of destroyed lungs and mouths in red. Ha. Australia is so weird, if they are going to this extent, why don't they just outlaw ciggies?