Colour is a universal language in design. It can help convey a brand’s personality, create market standout, and evoke an emotional response.
If you’re going to apply colour theory to your creative process, it pays to brush up on what that actually means in practice. We covered some of the basics of colour theory in our ultimate guide to logo design (opens in new tab), including how to develop colour harmonies using the colour wheel.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. The psychology of colour goes far beyond what’s pleasing to the eye, and colour has its practical considerations too when applying a logo design across different brand touchpoints.
Read on to discover four ways to work with colour more effectively in your logo design work…
01. Understand colour theory
When it comes to logo design and branding, the choice of a colour can have great significance, and aesthetics are not necessarily top of the list. It’s important to understand the distinction between colour psychology and colour symbolism, which again is different from any given individual’s associations with a colour.
Think of it in terms of broadness of relevance. Personal associations can be more of a hurdle to overcome than a useful reference point, particularly when a client’s preference comes into play. In the grand scheme of things, they’re irrelevant.
Colour symbolism is the next stage up, and takes cultural touchpoints into account: red symbolises wealth and good fortune in China, for instance, while white is used to represent death. This can be useful for brands on a national or regional scale, but not globally. Coca-Cola is sold in China, but it’s highly improbable that its red-and-white scheme is designed to convey a balance between money and death.
Colour psychology goes much deeper, and taps into our responses to colour on an unconscious level. In very broad-brush terms, red is a visceral, physical colour compared to the cooler, more intellectual blue. Yellow is bright, energetic and emotional, while green is more harmonious, natural and balanced.
All of these associations are nuanced, have an array of both positive and negative connotations depending on shades, tints and tones, and can also incorporate all manner of cultural and personal symbolism. But the essence of their psychological effects is universal enough to be considered as part of any logo design process.
02. Take a more subtle approach
There are many different approaches when it comes to choosing a colour scheme (opens in new tab) for a brand, taking into account everything from basic colour wheel dynamics to complex cultural and psychological associations.
Colour psychologist Angela Wright has worked out a Colour Affects System (opens in new tab), in which all shades, tints and tones of colour can be categorised into one of four ‘tonal groups’. Colour schemes that draw from within the same group will be more harmonious.
Group one colours are clear, delicate and warm, and contain no black. These include scarlet, coral, sky blue or peach. They are friendly, playful and optimistic, so ideal for youth brands, but on the flip-side can be seen as flippant, or may lack gravitas.
Group two colours contain more grey, and are more subtle as a result, such as maroon, sage or lavender. While these colours can convey style, grace and elegance for more upmarket brands, they can also come across as detached and elitist and are not commonly used in logo design.
Group three colours are warm, intense and fiery, and are blended with black, such as tomato red, burnt orange, olive or aubergine. They are earthy and substantial, and frequently used to convey strength and integrity, but run the risk of appearing old-fashioned or predictable.
Finally, group four colours are clear, strong and unsubtle, such as black, white, magenta or lemon yellow. They convey values of confidence, efficiency and modernity, and are therefore idea for future-thinking tech brands, but may come across as expensive, materialistic and cold.
Issue 266 of Computer Arts magazine (opens in new tab), on sale 28 April, explores colour psychology in branding in more depth, including how the Colour Affects System works in practice.
03. Put colour in its market context
Picking the right colour for any given brand isn’t just about its psychological and cultural associations, of course - it’s also about its competitive set, and wider sector trends.
For instance, two brands in totally unrelated sectors could both strive to use colour to convey trustworthiness, or playfulness, or elegance. But if their direct competitor uses the same shade for the same reasons, stand-out and differentiation immediately becomes an issue.
Truly ‘owning’ a brand colour (opens in new tab) is the holy grail of branding, and these days it’s not just about carving out space on the high street or supermarket shelf. How a logo design stands out in app form on a smartphone screen is increasingly important.
There are examples of brands eschewing market trends and punching through the noise with a totally left-field brand colour that communicates their unique values without blindly following the crowd: easyJet brought an unconventional splash of orange to the airline industry, for instance, while Tango uses black for an irreverent twist on the fizzy fruit drink sector.
But such bold moves are not always necessary. Exclusive use of a core primary, secondary or tertiary colour is an unwinnable battle in a crowded marketplace, but by considering the subtleties of colour association, breaking down the basic colour wheel into the millions of shade, tints and tones that the human eye can perceive, ownership becomes much more attainable.
04. Consider how colour is displayed
Once your brand colours are chosen, it’s worth brushing up on the rules of colour (opens in new tab), in terms of how it is generated and displayed in practical terms – particularly when it comes to assembling brand guidelines.
Consider what you can achieve using the basic additive (RGB, for screen) and subtractive (CMYK, for print) colour models, but also consider manipulating colour using HSB (hue, saturation and brightness) or LAB (which balances luminance with the chromatic values A and B, where ‘A’ ranges from green to red, and ‘B’ from blue to yellow).
RGB and CMYK define colour in a mechanical way, and the actual manner in which it’s displayed depends on various factors, such as the colour profile of a device. HSB is more intuitive, and defines colour in a more descriptive way in the context of a colour wheel.
Meanwhile, LAB is exceptionally accurate, and not device-specific as it’s based around the perception of colour rather than just its mathematic definition. This is particularly important when it comes to accurate colour-matching across multiple platforms.
Of course, if you choose to define the brand in print using one or more Pantone shades, totally accurate colour-matching on digital devices will be nigh-on impossible, so take this into consideration.
Enter your best branding to the Brand Impact Awards
If you’ve already mastered the craft of branding, submit your best work to Computer Arts’ international awards scheme.
The Brand Impact Awards celebrate the very best branding work from all around the world. Deadline for 2017 entries is 9 June. Find out more at www.brandimpactawards.com (opens in new tab).