When I’m thinking about the emotions or personality I want to establish for a design project, I always start with color. During downtime, I like browsing images and artwork online and pulling interesting color harmonies I find. I save these colors for future reference. When I start a new project, I can kickstart my design process by browsing through these color palettes and finding one with the right vibe for the client.
What Do Colors Mean?
Do colors have universal meanings that we can use in branding? Scientific studies have been done suggesting that the use of color does have an impact on how brands are perceived by consumers. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that different colors triggered specific feelings in customers. For example, blue logos invoked “confidence, success and reliability”, yellow logos invoked “fun and modernity”, and red logos invoked “expertise and self-assurance”.
These results are very revealing, but remember — every individual is influenced by their own specific personal and cultural experiences when viewing color. No color is limited to just one meaning or emotional tone. And we aren’t limited to using only one color to represent an idea — green isn’t the ONLY color we can use for sustainable or organic brands; blue isn’t the ONLY color for finance. And different variations on colors can create different moods, as we’ll discuss below.
Creating An Appropriate Tone
The most important part of branding with color is finding the colors that fit with the emotions you want associated with your brand. You’ll definitely notice when a brand’s colors are a mismatch. Would you use a banking app that was hot pink and sizzling orange? Probably not — those colors are too frantic for a brand that should feel reliable, trustworthy, and stable. On the hand, you would probably not want to attend a music festival advertised in shades of navy and beige — those very conservative colors would suggest a staid and boring event.
This is where subtle tweaks in color are important — we can drastically change the mood of a color through slight changes in hue, saturation, hint, or shade. By bumping up the cyans in a blue, or lightening it up with more white, we can get a blue that feels lighter and more playful. On the other hand, adding more black or toning down the saturation will give us a more subdued, serious blue. We can get thousands of expressive possibilities through slight adjustments to just one color.
Have you heard the joke booksellers tell about the customer coming into the store asking “Can you help me find this book? I don’t remember the title or author, but I know it has a red cover!” Color makes a memorable impression! Many world-famous brands are associated with a color — can you think of Coca-Cola without imagining their iconic red? Facebook without their soft blue and white? A powerful color choice can be a simple, but bold, way to define an iconic brand. With the right selection of colors, your brand will be immediately spotted in any visual environment — whether that be a billboard, store shelf, or social media feed.
When I’m creating a color story for a project, I love incorporating unexpected color touches. Offbeat color choices can really make a finished project stand out. When designing a brand identity for FlameWave, a simulated flame candle, we wanted to evoke the warm and romantic feelings associated with candlelight. Oranges and yellows were obvious color choices, but I also incorporated some purples and violets. These aren’t the first colors that come to mind when you think “fire”, but I wanted to evoke the evening light surrounding the candle, as well as the connotations of luxury purple entails.
As another example, green is always a go-to color for sustainable brands, but what if we used a different shade other than the typical leaf-green? Choosing a dark green or yellow green instead could convey the idea of an environmentally friendly brand while avoiding cliched visuals.
Even subtle color changes can make your brand stand out in a crowded marketplace.