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Brown is Nothing but Dark Beige
Dragon's-Eye View
Jon Schindehette

Illustrations by Richard Whitters

B efore I dive into the topic at hand, let me introduce you to the D&D Creative Studio. I have the opportunity to work with a talented and dedicated team on a daily basis, and I want to take a moment and acknowledge them. I hope you will welcome them to the D&D Next conversation as well!

  • Mari "The Mistress of Monsters" Kolkowsky, Publishing Art Director
  • Kate "Keenblade" Irwin, Publishing Art Director
  • Dan "DooMhMhamer" Gelon, Digital Publishing Art Director
  • Emil "Evil" Tanji, Concept Designer
  • Nick "Nique Necromantique" Bartoletti, 3D sculptor and animator
  • Keven Smith and Matt Adelsperger were sucked away to work on other teams (Kaijudo and Magic: The Gathering, respectively), but we still like to think of them as teammates "on assignment."

Okay, now let's tackle a discussion of color and D&D. I'm not looking to pick a single color for the next iteration of D&D, so please don't think that doing so is the intent of this column. I simply want to start a discussion about color, the impact color can have on the products and the way we perceive them, and the emotional resonance that color can create.

First of all, color is all about mood and tone, right? If you want a room that feels bright and alive, paint it with yellows. If you want a room that is serious and somber, give it dark rich tones. If you want a room that infuriates mass murderers, paint it pink. Seriously! A study said that pink was a calming color that would reduce violent emotions. So a prison painted the rooms of their most violent offenders pink. Guess what? Violence increased rather than decreased. There were huge riots until the prison repainted the walls. Just goes to show that scientific studies about color should be taken with a grain of salt. So I'm not going to bring up scientific studies that have been done about the meaning of color or why folks choose specific colors.

Now let me ease into some specifics, plus explore the two most preferred colors I've had to deal with for D&D. A few years back, I saw a commercial that showed me this really radical and trendy couple (this statement is dripping with sarcasm, by the way), and they declared their love of beige. Yep, the color. The dictionary defines beige as follows: A light grayish brown or yellowish brown to grayish yellow.

I call it boring, but that's just my own personal bias.

Have you ever noticed the love/hate relationship Dungeons & Dragons has with the color brown? I fight with it all the time. Something to keep in mind is this: When you ask for "a really cool parchment feel," you're asking for something that's based off brown. Sure, it's light brown. Maybe it even has a bit more yellow to it to give it more of a warm golden feel, but it is still a variation of brown! The same holds true for anything based on leather, hide, old book covers, and other earthy elements. These things are all very brown.
In case you can't tell, dealing with brown stuff isn't a piece of cake (not even chocolate cake, which is kinda brown). Many folks talk about their love of the "in-world" feel and the immersive feeling of period items, but at the same time they complain about how boring "brown" stuff is. I feel like I'm dealing with a catch-22 situation. Often folks will say, "Yeah, but you can make it interesting with texture." Really? Imagine comparing brown textures all day long . . .

After brown, the next favorite color for D&D seems to be red, so I'm going to pick on red for a few minutes.

As a visual professional, I can tell you that a certain shade of red might elicit a specific emotional response for person A, but that it'll mean something completely different for person B—depending upon the person's age group, culture, or ability to perceive color. Picking colors is more art than science. I did a search on the web for the meaning of the color red, and I found:

  • Red is the warmest of all colors.
  • Red is the color most chosen by extroverts.
  • Red is one of the colors most chosen by males.
  • Red cars go faster (really?) and cost more to insure.
  • Red is the color of anger.
  • Red is the color of prosperity.
  • Red is the color of joy.
  • Red is the color of love.
  • Red can have a physical effect, increasing the rate of respiration and raising blood pressure.
  • Red increases enthusiasm and interest.
  • Red increases energy.

And that is just a small sample of "facts" found for a single color. I'm not sure I buy into all the statements made, but let's run with it for a minute.

Now, I'm a fan of red. Well, most reds, but that doesn't mean that everything should be red just because I like it. Instead I've got to make choices based upon the needs of the brand, the product, and the choices that you guys and gals make with your wallets.

Marketing folks will tell you to use the color red to grab attention and to get people to take action. They also tell you to use starbursts, but that's a different discussion. Sure, using red might grab someone's attention. That is, unless you are shelved on an aisle full of red items.

So, our teams here need to talk a bit more and make sure that we understand the intent of the piece, the place in which it will be sold, the emotional reaction we are trying to create, the demographics of the consumer, and a host of other questions I'd like to have answered before we jump on the red bandwagon. This is the kind of stuff that we discuss in the creative brief and do design explorations around. The whole creative studio does a mind meld and tries to channel the thoughts and ideas of players in an attempt to find a look-and-feel solution that hits the nail on the head.

At this point, I'd like to play with a bit of color theory. Here are a few color palettes that are created using standard conventions of color theory using red as our base. If I were just going to run with scientific principles, I could pick the "best" red, and then use one of these palettes to create the perfect book cover, right? You wouldn't mind a cover created in any of these palettes right?

Do I hear some rumblings of disagreement right now?

We know red is popular among males, is all about aggression and power, creates a very powerful statement, and would stand out from the background, right? So if you aren't jumping on my red bandwagon here, why do you think that is? Maybe you want more sophistication or subtlety. Maybe it's just the fact that you think everything shouldn't be red. Maybe you just hate red. Maybe . . . well, there are a lot of maybes out there.

Like I said, it isn't that easy.

So, let's play a game for a moment. What if I narrow our color topic down and focus on choosing a color for the logo only. What color do you want the D&D logo to be? What color speaks to you about the meaning of the brand, the feel of the D&D experience, and the emotional reaction that the logo should elicit? For the sake of ease, I'm going to use the existing logo and do a color shift on it. What do you think? Do you have a preference? Does the color affect the mood and emotional resonance of the logo? Does it make the D&D logo "say" something to you?

 In your opinion, what color should the D&D logo be?  
Other (comment below)

Last Week's Poll

My favorite ampersand is:
4th Edition dragon 627 20.2%
Sketch #18 559 18.0%
Sketch #7 405 13.1%
2nd Edition flaming dragon 234 7.5%
Sketch #11 180 5.8%
Sketch #2 177 5.7%
Sketch #8 173 5.6%
Sketch #22 134 4.3%
Sketch #9 114 3.7%
Sketch #13 87 2.8%
Sketch #19 40 1.3%
3rd Edition dragon 38 1.2%
Sketch #24 34 1.1%
Sketch #20 32 1.0%
Sketch #3 31 1.0%
Sketch #21 30 1.0%
Original ampersand 29 0.9%
Sketch #15 28 0.9%
Sketch #23 27 0.9%
Sketch #14 25 0.8%
Sketch #12 20 0.6%
Sketch #1 14 0.5%
Some other ampersand that I'll describe below (see comments) 14 0.5%
Sketch #4 13 0.4%
Sketch #16 11 0.4%
Sketch #10 8 0.3%
Sketch #17 8 0.3%
Sketch #5 6 0.2%
Sketch #6 5 0.2%

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at
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