Trust Symbols: Why We Associate Freesias, Rectangles, Wax Seals and the Color Blue with Trust

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Scott Baradell

Note: Trustsymbols.com forwards to this post. 

Trust has existed as long as humans have. In fact, it predates us as a species. Studies of primates demonstrate that their capacity to trust is similar to our own; it is an essential glue for their communities.  A study of capuchin monkeys -- popularly known as being the favored sidekick of organ grinders -- showed that the monkeys go through a fascinating ritual of poking each other in the eye (like a capuchin "trust fall") before participating in shared activities, such as hunting. 

The first human societies came together because of trust. The greatest empires endured because of it. And nearly every civilization that has fallen saw the bonds of trust collapse first.

From our earliest days, we have communicated trust with symbols, such as flowers, shapes and colors. Let's take a look at the origins of four trust symbols and what they might teach us today.

  1. Freesias. During the repressive Victorian era in 19th-century England, floriography -- the language of flowers -- became popular as a way for people to express their emotions toward others. Specific flowers and flower arrangements delivered a coded message to the recipient. Sending a bouquet of sweet-smelling African freesias was the ultimate sign of trust. The flower was named for German physician-botanist Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese by another botanist to celebrate their friendship, perhaps inspiring the association.
  2. The color blue. Study after study has shown that people associate the color blue with trust. From the sky to the sea, we relate blue to symbols of security and permanence. Etymologically, the term "true blue" has been used to describe trustworthiness for centuries. In the Late Medieval Period, the town of Coventry, England was known for its talented dyers. Dying clothing and fabrics in those days -- using sometimes poisonous berries and plants to create pigment -- was a job that was both tedious and dangerous. The dyers of Coventry were renowned for producing blue cloth that could be trusted to never fade. The phrase "as true as Coventry blue" was shortened to "true blue" and the rest is history.
  3. Wax seals. In Early Medieval Period, wax seals came into common use by royals, bishops, and government officials to authenticate  official documents. By the 13th century, all segments of European society began using seals, both for business purposes and personal messages such as proclamations of love. This history explains how the wax seal came to be symbolize trust. A broken seal, by contrast, meant broken trust -- someone had tampered with a document that was meant for your eyes only.
  4. Rectangles. From office buildings to books to laptop screens, we see four-sided shapes around us every day, which is why we tend to associate rectangles and squares with trust. You trust the rectangular table you put your belongings on to support them. You trust the rectangular door frame not to collapse when you enter a building or room. And that is why from H&R Block to Lego to Microsoft, trusted brands incorporate rectangles and squares in their logos to reinforce their trustworthiness. Brands like American Express double-down on trust by using not only a square logo, but a blue one, too

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