The Perception of Color in Branding

Color Theory

Color impacts everything we interact with day-to-day. It not only sets the tone for how we experience brands, retail shopping and web browsing, but color also impacts how we feel about said experiences. We interpret color through all five of our senses, making primary palette decisions extremely important since it could make or break how brands connect with their target markets.

On the base level, one of the initial considerations that must be made is what type of color scheme will be used. The scheme that is ultimately chosen will strongly influence how a brand is received and interpreted.

Color theory

Designers will generally choose to work from one of the following color directions based on their initial discussions with a client about what they are looking for:

  • Monochromatic – Use of a single hue and various shades, tints and tones of that hue which produces a clean and consistent feel.
  • Analogous – The pairing of colors directly next to each other on the color wheel. To expand the palette, two additional hues may be added which lie directly next to the outer hues of the primary palette. Typically used for softer, lower contrast instances.
  • Complementary – Use of two hues directly opposite one another on the color wheel. Additional colors are added using tints, shades, and tones of the two primary colors. This scheme establishes the highest possible contrast in design.
  • Split Complementary – Use of one dominant color and two adjacent colors to the color’s complement to establish contrast. This is more nuanced than a complementary color scheme while retaining a strong contrast.
  • Triadic – Use of three colors that are equally dispersed around the color wheel. This style color scheme introduces contrast while maintaining a similar tone.

One consideration designers must be attentive to while establishing color palettes for brands is how the selected hues interact with one another. It is important to understand how two colors come across when overlaid or placed side-by-side to know how they will read to an audience. This is imperative to consider in the contexts of both print and digital uses since color is perceived very differently between the two mediums. Even when a palette is more subdued, if adjacent colors are too close in contrast, they could end up vibrating off one another, making the viewing experience an unsettling one.

Ensuring colors mesh well together is critical in conveying a brand properly and to allow for the greatest readability in all scales and variations.

In further brand development, color is used to guide the eye through a logo or piece of collateral. When creating a brand palette, designers specifically assign certain colors as primaries and others solely for use as accents to create visual interest and contrast. This may be seen in how color is applied to a logo mark to create emphasis in the imagery, or in its application in a typographic context to make certain words or phrases jump out more than others. All of this is done with high intentionality to create effective communication through design.

While some brands require bold and bright color palettes, others are more subdued and neutral in their approach. These choices all stem from the psychology of color and how designers want audiences to respond to a brand.

For example, red is known to evoke increased passion and heightened feelings of appetite, which is why many fast-food brands use red as a primary color in their palettes.

In contrast, blue is used to evoke feelings of calmness, security, and stability, which is why this color is seen more in the context of self-care and technology-based brands to establish a greater sense of trust with consumers. Whereas the goal of a fast-food restaurant is to drive decisions on a quick impulse, the goal of a brand that requires more commitment by its target audience is going to be more cautious in its color choices.

At the end of the day, there really is no perfect formula for creating a brand color palette, however, no decision in a designer’s color process is arbitrary. All choices must be based on a variety of factors to best convey the message and mission of a brand including how a brand is to be perceived, the emotions it is intended to evoke, what emphases are to be present, and what action the brand is meant to drive the consumer to act upon. With all these pieces accounted for, a brand can go from average to highly effective all with the right application of color.

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