Color Matters: Picking the Right Color For Your Brand
It’s a simple thesis, really. Color matters. Think about Tiffany & Co.—that sprightly aqua, dubbed Tiffany Blue, is an icon in and of itself—the cherry red of Coca-Cola is practically the color of Americana itself. When you hear these brand names a color pops into mind. That phenomenon is powerful. That means that when you see these colors out in the world, completely abstracted from the brand in question, you draw an association to it. It’s a little bit of magic, really. All brands strive towards this level of lasting, elevated association. But looking at a color wheel or palette of technicolor swatches, it’s dizzying and daunting to know just where your color, the color, lies.
A Good Place to Start
Understand that the goals of that iconic color should aim to: capture and express the personality of your brand (and/or emotions you hope to associate); resonate with your audience; and, help distinguish your brand from others in your (and related) industry.
Think about your brand. Before getting started, work on a brand identity questionnaire so that you get to know intimately well the intentions, inspirations, and ideals of your company. Even if it’s your personal project and you might feel like you know this already... do it anyway!
Think about your feelings. Write down descriptive words that come to mind when you think about your brand. From there, look at colors that conjure those feelings or moods through color psychology. Did you use optimistic words to describe your brand? You might want to explore sunny and upbeat hues. Is your brand environmentally-minded? Consider about colors that make us think of nature. Is your brand sophisticated and modern? Rich jewel tones might be right. It sounds simplistic, but this game of association is an intuitive way to discovering what colors might work for your brand.
Think about your audience and intended consumer. Understanding them—their age, their interests, their cultural touchstones, can help inform the colors you ultimately use in your branding.
While quirky brights might appeal to a younger generation, they might feel garish and intimidating to an older group. Meanwhile, tapping into an “of-the-moment” color might be a way to position yourselves as relevant.
Facebook and Twitter, two services whose target audience is all ages, can go with universal blue tones, while Snapchat opts for a decidedly younger lemon yellow. Glossier, a cult favorite beauty brand for the Gen Z and Millennial Generations, has turned its sassy pink hue into its own hashtag (#GlossierPink).
Get inspired. Think about artists, works of art, even places, whose color palettes inspire you. Josef Albers, Agnes Martin, Johannes Itten, Picasso, Monet... countless other artists have spent much of their careers ruminating on color and have lessons to share! It’s okay to reference other brands here, too. Gut instinct in terms of what colors attract your eye can help lead you further on the path to settling on your brand’s colors. Make a moodboard (or a Pinterest), and edit, edit, edit.
Consider a color story. Expanding your color palette to secondary or even tertiary colors helps create visual hierarchy throughout your brand’s experience. For instance if your primary color is red, you may not want all your CTAs, type, illustrations and marketing to also be the same shade of red. It’s nice to add complementary colors into the mix to add more dimension and interest. Think of your primary color as the main act—the secondary palette is your supporting actors on stage. If you are stumped for colors to complement your chosen primary color, we have found the site Coolors to be extremely helpful. You can enter in any color and it will give you complementary or interesting colors to pair.
Do what’s right for your brand. Not all brands need supporting color (think of Pinterest’s confident use of red, for example). This works because while red is used throughout Pinterest’s brand experience, user photos (pins) from their website really pop in place of a secondary palette. Also, not all brands “need” color—when paired back and done well it can look highly sophisticated. Uber, Chanel, GILT, Sonos, and NeedSupply all opt for a colorless brand identity. Due to the paired down palette, they exude confidence, sophistication and luxury.
The World Around You
As with any stage of the branding process, being aware of the competitive landscape is extremely important. Whether it’s to avoid unwanted links to certain brands, distinguish your product from the pack, or build on preexisting trends, knowing what’s going on in the world around you means you’ll be able to approach your branding from a more informed, strategic standpoint.
Here’s a question: How many fast food restaurants can you think of that combine yellow and red colors in their branding? So many, you guys! So many. Certain color combinations are just too closely related to certain industries to do the work of unraveling them. In these cases, it’s better to stay away and create your own color story.
In the effort to innovate, it can also be tempting to tag onto trends in the world of brand colors. See: Glossier’s particular shade of pink that’s been everywhere the last few years. Not-quite pastel, certainly not saccharine, this new shade of sandy pink—neutral, unassuming, surprisingly modern—has become the hue du jour for a whole slew of new businesses and savvy brands targeting young women. The specific shade of soft pink has been dubbed “millennial pink” it’s so downright pervasive. Interestingly, this upspring of ubiquity coincided with Pantone’s official seal of approval that came in 2016 when “rose quartz” was named 2016 “color of the year.” Of course, this cannot be mere coincidence nor fortune teller prescience. As Kevin Lo writing for the Loki Design Journal notes, “Pantone Inc. holds incredible influence with their increasingly marketed and mediatised Colour of the Year campaigns.” It’s not an inherently bad thing to join a movement, but it’s certainly something to be aware of and take into consideration.
A Little Help From Our Friends
Okay, if you’re still not confident that the colors you’re gravitating towards work, don’t despair. There are a slew of nifty tools and color generators that may help ease the process. A few of our favorites below...
A dictionary of Color Combinations by author unknown
The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten
Interaction of Color by Josef Albers
A curated assortment of color palettes that is updated daily.
Snag the hex color code for every shade on the spectrum. The element of surprise may work to your advantage.
Computer-generated gradients that will make you think of sunrises and other beautiful things.
A roundup of the official color codes being used by the biggest international brands.
A place to browse thousands of color schemes