It’s my privilege to work with a team of talented designers. One of them — Rachel Getsinger, Pivot’s senior design lead — takes the lead on many of our logo and branding projects. Recently, she has introduced Color Theory 101 to our clients when we present logo color options. In this month’s article, I’m passing Rachel’s knowledge and wisdom on to you!
What do you know about your colors? Is your experience with color limited — as mine is — to playing with Crayola crayons as a kid?
As it turns out, colors have meaning. The colors you use can evoke different emotions based on our shared cultural understanding of different colors. Here is a quick guide to colors, beginning with various words each color evokes and a few additional tips:
Red: Corporate, passion, energy, active, leadership, hot, courage, unyielding. Red is a strong color — red splashes tend to be where the human eye goes first. Too much red can be overwhelming, but in just the right amount, it’s a great attention-grabber.
Orange: High energy, lively, joy, enthusiasm, creativity, determination, encouragement, stimulation. With such positive words associated with orange, is it any surprise orange has experienced a newfound popularity in the last 10–15 years?
Yellow: Warm, cheerful, on sale, humor, friendly. Yellow isn’t frequently used in marketing, but it can add bright splashes — it’s a bold color to use.
Green: Harmony, fresh, fertility, money, safety, healing, health, peace. Green is, of course, a natural color to use in the world of plants and trees, and generally has connotations of well-being.
Blue: Stable, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, truth, calm, depth, understanding. Blue is a very strong and traditional color, as this list suggests, but because that’s true, it is often overused.
Purple: Power, stability, royal, noble, ambitious, dignity, independence. In contrast to blue, purple is a color identified with many powerful emotions, but is not overused. In fact, if anything, purple is probably the second-most underused color after yellow.
Black: Elegance, power, formal, mystery, classic, authority. Black is a bold color that almost immediately puts a more formal spin on any marketing piece, particularly when it’s used as a background color.
White: Pure, honest, faith, simple, clean. The reason we often talk about having sufficient white space in marketing is that white helps the eye feel like marketing materials aren’t overly cluttered. Apple takes this to an extreme in much of their marketing (so much white!) to emphasize simplicity.
Of course, this is just the beginning of the infinite world of color. (This also only covers the eight colors you’d find in the smallest Crayola pack — there’s a world of shades out there.)
Knowing the meaning of different colors doesn’t necessarily mean you should use them all at once. You shouldn’t.
Pivot generally gives clients a color palette of about four to six colors — one or two primary colors and a handful of complementary accent colors. More than that, and it will be hard for your customers to see the similarities from piece to piece, and your brand won’t feel consistent.
Most large companies stake out a color and run with it. Think of some of the largest companies in the world, and you know what colors goes with them: Coke’s iconic red, Amazon’s orange, and so on.
Or, consider the largest cell phone carriers, which each stake out a different color territory. Verizon has claimed red, Sprint is yellow, AT&T is blue, and T-Mobile has gone bold with pink. They may each have a few accent colors, but by and large they stick with their primary color. It’s a good practice — that’s why the largest companies do it.
What do I want you to take from this article? These two things.
First, know what the colors you are using mean. Second, try using only two or three colors in your marketing materials (the same two or three in each piece) and see the difference it makes in terms of consistency.
Finally, if you want to dive deeper, ColorMatters.com is a good place to start!