Color can be defining. Yes, we could delve into social commentary here but that’s not where we’re going. The focus here is on brand colors. Think about Tiffany’s, the luxe jeweler – they have their own, distinctive shade of blue that is instantly recognizable without the need for a logo or any other mark. Their exemplary branding through color is reason enough to counter any naysayers at your company who are dismissing the importance – and expense – of a corporate branding or rebranding project. Silence them with arguments defending the validity of the art that is color selection and offer up these tips to streamline the project to get it done.
The colors that count
Pantone sets the global standard around color for all products and services that define, communicate and control color. They are the authority when it comes to anything and everything graphics, fashion and product design. Each year, they decree the “Pantone of the Year” and update their website flavicon with the color selected to make their color choice readily obvious to all. A few weeks ago, they broke with their annual tradition of choosing a single color. For 2021, they chose two colors with the rationale that 2020 was so tough on everyone that we needed twice as much color in our lives this year.
“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimisic, this is a color combination that give us resilience and hope. We need to feel encourage and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”
~Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute
The meaning of color
Given that there is an institute, a global force at that, focused exclusively on color, the importance of color should be blatantly obvious. Each color conjures up a different emotive experience; studies have shown how color can change our mood, increase our appetite, or put us at peace. Beyond the hue itself, adjusting the shade of that hue (how light or dark) is also a powerful design technique.
Think about pastels – how do they make you feel? Calm and relaxed, right? In contrast (literally), bold and saturated colors, particularly combinations that are at the opposite sides of the color wheel like blue and yellow or pink and green, instantly get noticed. These are called complementary colors because, imagine that, they go well together and complement each other. It all depends on what the desired outcome is for your brand and how to represent its ethos. Is your brand fun and playful or stodgy and serious?
RED – evokes passion, excitement, and commitment, calling viewers into action. No surprise that it’s the most popular color in food and restaurant logos. It’s also wildly popular in the automotive industry.
ORANGE – is for all things playful and is commonly used in the entertainment industry.
YELLOW – makes us hungry and happy so you’re probably not surprised that it’s ubiquitous in fast food logos.
BLUE – by far, the world’s most popular color choice, commonly used in healthcare, business and education as it evokes an impression of professionalism. Airlines and communications companies also tend to favor shades of blue.
GREEN – natural, Earthy, warm grass and growth to represent real estate and eco- organizations.
GRAY – fun fact, it is spelled “grAy” in America and “grEy” in Europe; gray has a neutralizing yet powerful symbolism, so it’s often used in tech and banking.
Tips for picking the “right” colors for your brand
Some founders have argued that there is no such thing as the “wrong” combination and whatever innovation has been developed by the company will stand on its own. Sadly, not so. Have fun choosing your logo and brand colors but choose wisely!
TIP 1: avoid hue neighbors. Choosing colors that are side-by-side on the color wheel (analogous colors), like deep pink and red, ochre yellow and lime green seems like a reasonable idea because the colors are neighbors, right? One would think that they’d get along being next door to each other and all that but there isn’t sufficient contrast to make them stand out against each other when they are overlaid.
TIP 2: too much contrast is a bad thing. Wait, so we just told you that contrast is good, now we’re saying too much of it is a bad thing? Correct. Think about red and green – aside from the obvious association with Christmas, the colors are nearly impossible to distinguish when one is used on top of the other. Purple and green didn’t even really work for Barney the dinosaur. Remember, it’s not simply a color wheel or paint swatches that you’re selecting here and putting them beside each other; you need to think about how they look when they are printed and superimposed on each other.
TIP 3: skip the recognized holiday combos. We’ve already highlighted that red and green is a no-no for its festive association. For that same reason, orange and black (Halloween) or red, white and blue (American Independence) should be avoided. The Easter Bunny would likely also be out of sorts here to learn that pastel pink, yellow and blue are also non-starter logo combinations despite how cute they look on children’s stuffies and candy baskets. That combination signals weakness and innocence – not exactly the brand you want to launch.
TIP 4: don’t get bitten. Red and black are fabulous for horror movies but not so great in print combinations. That said, using either color sparingly in a sea of white and shades of gray can be very powerful. Here, in Tip 4, it’s less about a “don’t you dare” to a “cautionary tale.”
TIP 5: less is more. Sure, you want to have a bold accent like neon orange to get noticed. Go for it! But think about using bold choices like that sparingly. Too much of anything, even ice-cream and cake (!!) is never a good thing. Choose three colors and call it done – no need to have a six-pack for choice.
So, get out there. Have some fun branding or rebranding your company. Consider testing out your color scheme first by looking up logos in your space. Do you want to blend in with them or stand out? Is your brand about being a contrarian or going with the flow? What you stand for can be represented by the colors you choose.