You’d like this story even more if the headline were yellow

Yes, tabloid headlines are yellow for a reason. Graphic designers and experts say yellow attracts consumers in ways that other colours don’t

Next time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, check out the racks of gossip magazines arrayed in the checkout aisle (because of course you’d never glance at a tabloid otherwise) and you’ll notice one thing they almost all share. No, not pictures of Tiger Woods.

Instead, week in and week out, almost all feature headlines in a bright shade of yellow.

It’s not just a coincidence – and it’s more than a sly nod to the muckraking tradition of yellow journalism. Graphic designers and experts who specialize in the psychology of colour say yellow attracts consumers in ways that other colours don’t.

“It’s an excellent attention-getting colour,” says Paul Lester, a professor of communication at California State University, Fullerton, and author of Visual Communication.

Yellow and red have the longest wavelengths on the colour spectrum, which means they can be seen from farther away than other colours. But yellow has added psychological benefits: It’s believed to trigger feelings of happiness, Prof. Lester says.

Given its high visibility and bliss-inducing effects, it’s no wonder bright yellow is a common feature of gossip magazine headlines. The colour gets noticed and gives people a thrill.

Which may be why magazines not known for regular gossip coverage can often be seen adopting the hue for their more celebrity-driven stories.

The current issue of Maclean’s, for example, wades in to the Tiger Woods scandal with a bright yellow headline that looks as if it’s been pulled straight from Us Weekly announcing “The Fall of the World’s Greatest Athlete.”

“There’s a certain degree of tackiness to yellow,” says Alexander White, a typography consultant and professor at Parsons The New School for Design, in New York.

Those who design celebrity magazine covers are aware that readers pick up such magazines as a fun and shallow indulgence, Prof. White says, noting that yellow is a fitting choice for such interests.

“I can’t think of a better colour to use if you were trying to evoke that kind of light and not-so-serious experience of a magazine,” he says.

Bonnie Fuller, the Canadian-born gossip magazine queen who has been at the helm of Flare, YM, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Glamour and Us Weekly and is currently president and editor-in-chief of, is often credited with creating the colour palette of bright yellows, pinks and blues that currently dominates celebrity magazines and websites.

“She has left a rainbow in her wake,” says Tony Quinn, founder of, a British-based website that covers the magazine industry.

“You’ve got to make stories and magazine pages look inviting and exciting so that they literally reach out and pull in the reader,” Ms. Fuller says.

The colour palette of celebrity magazines, which are predominantly read by women, is meant to convey a sense of lighthearted enjoyment, she says.

“Why use downbeat colours? I wanted my magazines to make women feel better – feel better about themselves, feel better about their lives, be a fun and entertaining and helpful experience to read. And so I think that when you use … a bright palette it helps to do that. It’s an uplifter.”

Of course, simply because something is yellow does not necessarily mean that it is tacky or trashy. “It all depends on the shade of yellow,” says Joanna Turlej, president of Adora Graphics, an Oakville, Ont.-based graphic design company.

Compare, for example, the tawdry neon yellow of Us Weekly, In Touch, Star and other gossip magazine headlines with the richer hue that frames the cover of National Geographic.

“National Geographic is a yellow that has that prestige feeling of gold, whereas the gossip magazines shoot for something that’s a little more playful,” says Kyle Meyer, founder of, a U.S.-based website about typographic design.

Considering that celebrity magazines are often impulse purchases, it’s no wonder they need to grab attention with bright yellow headlines promising “trashy” fun, says Matt Thomson, a marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

The irony, of course, is that with all gossip magazines screaming their promises of shallow indulgence in bright yellow, no one headline is able to stand out from the rest. Waiting in light at the grocery store, you may not even notice all those yellow headlines because your eyes have glazed over.

“When everything is in boldface,” Prof. Lester says, “nothing is in boldface.”

Dave McGinn is a writer with Globe Life.


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