Pink: reclaim or avoid?

Pink: reclaim or avoid? By Mandy Barker

I was recently invited to do a talk in Newcastle as part of the Colour Collective group. Colour Collective is an organisation that explores the use of colour through science, academia and creative practitioners. I didn’t just want to speak about colour as a whole, it was such a huge topic, I wanted it to have a theme. We recently worked with Tyne and Wear Archive and Museums on the Women of Tyneside project, in which we explored the use of colour pink in the brand: do we reclaim it, or stay away from it? I wanted to share our journey in this decision. 

Colour is everywhere but we don’t always notice the power of it. As a designer, I use colour theory every day in work. Colour plays a vital role in our everyday lives. It helps us to navigate, know what food to eat, and see cultural references. As designers, we think about the power of colour commercially, but also culturally.

Colour reveals the purpose of a brand, but we need to be careful when there are so many perceptions of colours and social connotations. When speaking to clients, we listen closely to understand what they want, not what they say they want, and then use tricks and tools to communicate their purpose in the most effective way. Colour is a big part of this process, as it can completely transform the meaning and influence of a brand.

When we start a branding project, our priority is uncovering the brand purpose, connecting with the audience and also looking at points of cultural reference. We present concepts in black and white, and after discussions we then look at how colour can help tell the story.


When we started working on Women Of Tyneside, we had discussions around pink, and whether to use it, or whether it was only going to reignite stereotype (which is always risky). Pink is a strong colour to build a brand, but designers must understand the connection with the audience, that we are trying to build with the colour. We couldn’t ignore the historical connection that pink has in defining or promoting femininity. We decided that much more research needed to be done before a decision was made.

We started looking into why the Western world uses pink and blue to define binary genders. At the start of our research, we found that it was to do with the most powerful thing in the world: money. In the 1980’s, parents could start finding out the sex of their baby, retailers capitalised on this to sell binary-gender specific merchandise. Before this, it was common for parents to dress both binary-genders in white.

So, capitalism contributed in gender divides of pink, and blue. Retailers knew that the majority of parents have more than one child, and that they would be unlikely to hand down ‘boys’ clothes to a ‘girl’ if it was going against social norms, influence or expectations for worry of being different. So, do we assign these colours to each gender because that’s what they like? Or do boys and girls gravitate towards these colour because of social conditioning?

We came across the pink and blue project from photographer Jeongmee Yoon. Yoon’s five year old daughter couldn’t get enough of candy-coloured possessions, so Jeongmee started the Pink and Blue project, where she photographed her daughter and other children with pink or blue themed possessions. The innocence of her subjects raised the question whether there was something ‘natural’ about these gender norms or if stereotypes are so culturally engrained at such a young age that even infants seemed to notice?

There was also a study done into this in 2011. Researchers took two identical objects, one was pink, the other wasn’t. They put the objects in a room of children and observed. At one, there was no difference to which child would play with the toys, at two, more girls were choosing pink, by 4, the gender divide was evident with most boys refusing the pink item.

We continued to ask whether we use pink and reclaim femininity? Some movements have taken the power back of the colour including He4She, Amnesty and Pussy Riot, along with celebrities Beyonce, Janelle Monae and Nicki Minaj.


However, after analysing our research and our own experiences, we could not ignore the negative effect pink has had on gender stereotypes. Both blue and pink have reinstated gender stereotypes. The gender divide is still very present, because of social conditioning. Because of this we agreed it was too risky and that we haven’t moved forward enough from social conditioning to use pink for a brand that is to celebrate women.

Well considered research can help define a brands value, strength and positioning, which will boost awareness, customer recall and differentiate brands form the competition. If chosen effectively, it can set an emotional stage for the whole brand experience. 

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