Color and Your Brand

Color is…

Did you know that most people make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with your brand? Between 60‐90% of their impression of your brand is based on color alone.

(From the Impact of Color on Marketing)

 

Color is the first thing to get right with your brand because it’s the first piece of information from the visual hierarchy to be interpreted by our minds. Not just a side dish to the graphic planning of your brand, color should be seen as a core and central component of your brand identity. That’s why, when using color as part of your brand communication strategy, it’s important to think about what colors motivate your Dream Client and why. This will enable you to create the ultimate brand experience for your audience.

The complete brand experience is so much more than just a logo, a product, or a piece of marketing. The brand experience is the sum total of all its working parts, and–especially–of the design thinking that drives the brand.

The Brand Experience Hierarchy

Scent
Sound
Sight
Touch

In the digital era, the focus is on graphic visual communication, so even more care is needed to create the right kind of digital brand experience…your visual communication strategy must do the work of all 4 experience types.

If we break the brand experience down further to how we process the visual hierarchy, we can quickly see how important color is to the overall brand experience design.

The Visual Hierarchy

Color
Shapes
Symbols
Words

As you can see, color is the first element in the visual hierarchy of interpretation, making it the most important element of graphic communication and, therefore, the key to your brand planning. The more you familiarize yourself with the symbology of color, the more successfully you can use it in your digital brand communication strategy.

Color is influenced by shape, and also by proximity to other colors. Color is contextual, visceral, and the true soul of your brand.

Get the color palette right, and you are well on your way to expressing your key brand message in a way that matters. If your brand’s color palette is a bit off, you could be missing a deeper and more memorable connection with your audience. Get it wrong, and you risk alienating your audience altogether.

Color Has Many Facets

 

The Physiology of Color

There is no measurable distinction between the visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation from the entire spectrum (WikiPedia). In this sense, color is not a property of electromagnetic radiation, but a feature of visual perception by an observer. Even the way the human brain maps color is arbitrary at best. This is most evident in people with retinal cone deficiencies, but we all experience color a bit differently based on our inherent life experiences.

Color perception is very influenced by environment. So in a sense, color is constantly being reinvented due to its ever changing context. With that in mind, there are certain key color associations to be aware of when designing a brand campaign.
 

The Symbology of Color

White


What immediately comes to mind when you think of the color white? A wedding dress, a dove?
Snow? A Doctor’s coat?

For hundreds of years, white–more so than any other color–has been most commonly associated with concepts of purity, faith, and cleanliness. Ironically, white in itself is not a color, but rather the effect achieved by the perception of all color at once.

White robes were worn by the High Priestesses of Egypt and Rome in their white marble temples. Muslim and Israeli visitors to Mecca wear white. Buddhists also wear white in the hopes of achieving “Rainbow” mind during meditation.

Interestingly enough, the West’s affinity for white wedding dresses goes only back to Queen Victoria’s white wedding dress in the late 19th century (BBC). Before that, wedding dresses were of many colors as they were often whatever was on hand in the lady’s everyday closet.

White is the perfect canvas for minimalist designs, providing a distraction free space for other colors to play. White is my go-to color for digital creative portfolios because of it’s ability to let the artwork breathe.

For more white color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board W H I T E.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Black


The color black often symbolizes death, the God mind, and the super fashionable.

It has associations of power, sadness, fear, and mystery. The absence of color in itself, black can be put to good use in almost any brand application.

In Chinese philosophy the Yin Yang symbol represents the interconnectedness of dark and light forces. In the Yin Yang, black represents the Yin, or the shadow. The actual etymology of the Chinese characters represent the shady and sunny sides of a mountain. As the saying goes, you can’t have light without dark (Wiki).

Black can add an element of distinction, authority, mystery or sex appeal to your brand design. Paired with lots of white, a minimal effect can be achieved to great result.

For more black color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board B L A C K.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Pink

Pink represents romance, charm, nostalgia, tenderness, serenity, and harmony. (Bourn Creative)

Our relationship with pink is one of those color associations we accept as deeply ingrained in the human psyche, but which is actually a very recent development in the cultural use of a color. Now usually associated with little girls, pink was traditionally a color thought better suited for young boys and men due to its derivation from red, the color of war and valor. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and the burgeoning popularity of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud that parents started associating blue with boys and pink with girls by virtue of their gender coded clothing colors.

This color coding of gender carried through to the color of the Breast Cancer Awareness brand and other women’s interest groups and brands. However, in the last 20 years, pink has become less and less popular for adult women, and is becoming further typed down in association to little girls (The Atlantic).

The truth is, pink is still a very flexible color, and can easily lend itself to a wide variety of brand applications. Pink can be hot and bright, appropriate for edgy applications. It can also be soft and play the role of a neutral, perfect for backgrounds and graphic accents.

For more pink color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board P I N K.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Red


Like pink, red is associated with romance, but more specifically true and everlasting love. In China, it is symbolic of luck, and in India, brides wear red saris for good luck (NPR).

A red rose, a drop of blood, the velvet shoes worn by royalty in Versailles in 17th century France…all of these images are powerful, and emotionally provocative. Red attained this early elevated status above most other colors due to the high cost of the cochineal bug which provided most of the dye for clothing before until relatively recently in human history.

With the advent of synthetic dye during the Industrial Revolution, red dye became cheap and therefore lost some of its original status though it continues to have special meaning in the realm of the Catholic Church and pop culture associations with royalty.

Bright red usually works best in small doses in brand applications. The immediacy of bright red says stop, emergency, error, and warning as well as debt.

Darker or more rich reds may be less sharp, and have a wider variety of applications providing an element of romance or reverence to the brand composition.

For more red color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board R E D.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Yellow


Humans have a long and enduring relationship with yellow. Yellow ochre is one of the oldest colors made by humans (WebExhibits). Due to it’s association with the sun, yellow is also considered to be the happiest color in the spectrum (Sensational Color).

Yellow represents health, knowledge, wisdom, and maturity. It is the omniscient presence of the sun that brings these other attributes, inspiring optimism in the right context.

On the other hand, yellow also has associations with illness, caution, cowardice, and crime (yellow crime tape and detective novels).

Conversely, if yellow were a flavor, it would taste sweet like bananas, pineapples, and creamery butter (Sensational Color). Its scent is fresh and stimulating like lemon.

A warm color, yellow works well to stimulate action in brand design. Since it is often used in combination with orange in fast food branding, it is sometimes associated with cheapness and convenience so carefully consider your project context when using yellow in your brand palette development.

For more yellow color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board Y E L L O W.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Purple


Purple is less common in nature than other colors, so it has become associated with the sacred. It can also signify royalty, spirituality, nobility, luxury, power and ambition, wealth, creativity, devotion, mystery and, of course, magic.

Dark purple is the color of the Universe while a light purple like lavender can be symbolic of grace, femininity, and delicate beauty.

Purple contains the fieriness of red and the coolness of blue, making it both a warm and a cool color with a wide variety of applications.

Like red, purple’s association with royalty had to do with the high cost of the dye used to produce fabric before the Industrial Revolution. At times, purple fabric was worth its weight in gold (history.com).

Now that purple is widely available in every color application possible, it has maintained its mystique, and can lend its qualities to branding for things like luxury products, massage therapists, and psychologists.

For more purple color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board P U R P L E.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Green


All around the world, green is the color of nature, life, money, health, spring and, of course, envy. Green means go. It represents Paradise in many sacred texts, and is also a symbol for splendor.

This color evokes feelings of calmness, tranquility, hope, and renewal.

The very word green comes from the German word grün which means both “grass” and “grow”. Other romance languages have their variants all with a common meaning of Spring and growth (vert, verde from the Latin virere) (Wiki).

The ancient Romans relied heavily on Vermilion green in the great frescoes of the era (Decoded Past). During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, green was the color worn by merchants, bankers, and gentryman to distinguish them from peasants and nobility.

Historically, green also has the association of sickness, because the toxic arsenic-derived pigments used in the early production of green cloth made wearers ill. Hence the expression “Green around the gills” (The Pragmatic Costumer).

Its rich and complex symbolic history aside, in its most common modern application green would be used to indicate product safety or approval as in the case of the Non-GMO labeling style. When used in UI design for web properties, green can mean Verified or that an action has been successful. Hence, green carries with it a tone of approval.

For more green color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board G R E E N.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Gray


Gray is a neutral color. It is equally composed of red, green, and blue.

It communicates neutrality, conformity, old age, and traditional, modest values. It also ranks as one of the least popular colors in the visible color spectrum.

Grey tones bring to mind images of concrete, industrialization, fog, cold, metal, and technology (The Meaning of Grey). Historically, grey can be symbolic of both poverty (it was the color of un-dyed wool before fabric colorants became more widely available), and distinction as it is the color of silver and other precious metals.

Though many of its associations are bleak–“the cold grey of gun metal”–or amorphous–“gray area”, “gray matter”, “50 Shades of Gray”–grey can still play a vital role in your color palette when paired with other more stimulating colors. Grey as a graphic element can be very useful in areas of text where a black would be overkill. Pairing nicely with dusty pinks, black, cherry, violet and other warm peachy tones, grey is a go to for a modern neutral when equilibrium, humility, and worth are desired (Wiki).

For more gray color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board G R A Y.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Blue


Blue is the most popular color on Earth across cultures though men tend to prefer blue more often than women (Kiss Metrics). Our connections between blue, the sky, and water are deeply intertwined in the human subconscious.

A rich, deep blue can bring to mind peace, sobriety, and wisdom. A brighter blue with more green can be mentally stimulating. If the blue runs more gray, it can be used to subjugate like the flat denim blue of many prison uniforms.

Blue is excellent in logos as well as background elements wherever power, clarity, or importance need to be communicated. Too avoid overly corporate or municipal blues in your creative brand strategy, pair it with brown or purple (Bourn Creative).

Green is also a direct complement to blue. By altering the shade of either, the overall character of the composition can change flavor, so to speak.

For more blue color inspiration, visit my Pinterest board B L U E.

All photos courtesy of Pinterest.

Religious & Mystical Associations


Certain colors are more closely associated with the major world religions. These are some of the most well known:

Buddhism / White / Purity
Hinduism / Red / Sacred, Sensual
Islam / Green / Life, Paradise
Christianity / Black / Death, Sin, Reverence
Judaism / Blue / Sky, God
(Hue Believers)

Photo of Ganesha figures courtesy World Hindu News

 

Color in the History of Design & Marketing

White, gray (reminiscent of silver), and black have all had long associations with luxury, fashion, and lifestyle brands. Name brands like Prada, Tesla (with Elon Musk in his silver suits), and Apple all utilize these colors in their overall brand design. These colors communicate status, quality, and desirability.

Orange, yellow, and red are more frequently thought of in association with affordability, convenience, and speed. McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Target all include these hot colors in their branding.

Just because a certain color has been typecast (say Avocado and kitchen cabinetry circa 1970?) doesn’t mean it can’t play another role in your creative brand planning. The key is in knowing as much about the history of the color and about your audience as possible so that you can really break free from the confines of predictable color applications in a bold and captivating way.

 

Personal Experience

Occasionally, I meet people whose favorite color is something less commonly preferred like orange. In talking to them, I often learn that there was an early association with this color in a formative environment. For one man I know, orange was the color of both his crib and his high chair as a child, so he learned to associate orange with feelings of happiness, comfort, play, and nourishment early in life.

That preference for orange persisted into adulthood. He didn’t buy a lot of orange items, nor did he ever wear orange that I ever saw, and yet, if you asked him what his favorite color was, he would say orange.

Some people totally identify with their favorite color. Personally, I’ve always liked black, and it’s my go to clothing color for most any occasion. I love black’s ability to convey simplicity and elegance at the same time. If you asked my why I have always loved black since childhood, I’d have no clue, but the preference is there nonetheless.

If you can move beyond the common expectations we place on color within your visual composition and make a more personal connection with your audience, those will be the most successful brand strategies.

 

Key Trends in Color

Each year, Pantone, the world’s official authority on color trends announces their color selections for the year. The Pantone Color of the Year for 2017 is Greenery, a vibrant leaf-like green. It is included in a palette with Primrose Yellow, Lapis Blue, Flame, Island Paradise, Pale Dogwood, Pink Yarrow, and Kale.

You can see Kale paired with Pale Dogwood and Hazelnut in this moodboard I created.

For more on current trends in the color world, visit Pantone.

Making Color Work for Your Brand

As you can see, color literally creates context. This is where thorough background research on your product and market niche is critical to the success of your overall brand design.

What are your thoughts on color?

2 Comments

  1. Mike Blakey

    A very well written essay on color and its meaning in society–now and historically. I think about color often, but it’s strange, when asked, I really don’t have an answer for “what is your favorite color?” I find all of them interesting. As a base color, I actually like grey. As you stated, it is neutral and pairs well with other–stronger–colors. It’s obvious that you have put a lot of thought into this, and done plenty of research on the subject. Thanks for posting a useful reference piece Acacia.

    Reply
  2. Acacia Carr

    Thank you, Mike! I really appreciate your kind words. I like gray as well, especially with a nice dusky rose.

    Reply

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