Pink is a loaded color in design. The association with femaleness is so strong that anything pink — clothing, books, power tools, bar charts — is assumed to be for or about women. For this reason, using pink and blue to represent male and female in graphics is a helpful stereotype for the audience, but also a fraught one, and Lisa Charlotte Rost’s recent post unpacks this in a helpful way.
This is something I’ve discussed with my students a lot, because many of them feel the stereotypical colors are helpful rather than harmful, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the problem of pink clothing since I have a young daughter and a younger son.
But, amid all this, pink is on the rise in news graphics. This corresponds with brighter palettes overall, compared to five or 10 years ago, and it’s often used with saturated hues like turquoise and lime green that would have seemed outlandish a decade ago. Compared to other trends in graphics, color is mostly independent of what tools and platforms are popular, and in newsrooms it’s not usually limited by a strict brand identity palette the way it is in corporate communications.
Some pink sneaks in as the necessary tint of red, especially in political graphics relying on the red vs. blue symbolism. But sometimes pink is now standing in without any true red present. I’ve also been seeing more purple, from fuchsia and bright violet and dark indigo. It will be interesting to see if there’s more of that in election graphics as a nod to the middle ground between red and blue. It might also be an effect of news design more closely tracking graphic design trends, from Millennial Pink to Pantone’s Ultra Violet.
Sometimes pink gets play when it’s visually related to the topic, like hot dogs, or occasionally as a novelty for a “fun” graphic or lighter topic. Bloomberg deserves credit for persistent use of bright pink, regardless of story topic, and Quartz really leans into the pink-and-blue color scheme (or mauve-and-cerulean) for lots of topics unrelated to gender.
Both Bloomberg and Quartz have used pink to represent gender, and I think this offers another path — pink and blue can be useful gender indicators if that is not pink’s only job. The Wall Street Journal has also done this — pink for women and pink for lots of other things. What’s particularly harmful about using pink to represent female is that is often considered the only proper use, which marginalizes both the color and the people it represents. It’s a bit frustrating that men can use pink to build their quirky designer cred, while women have to be cautious about coming off pink-crazy, but in the end I think it benefits everyone to make pink mainstream. I mean, all of these could work with other colors, but isn’t it great?
Send me other examples of pink at firstname.lastname@example.org or @lisawaananen. I’d love to hear about any reasons or discussions behind pink if you’ve been involved with that.
Updated July 13: I’ve added some more examples, especially Financial Times charts that deserve special mention because the distinctive light salmon background makes color combinations trickier, and because they’ve also used blue-and-pink for a range of topics. (Rather, oxford-and-claret.)