Selecting the Right Color for Your Brand

There are few areas of design and branding more subjective than color. Despite long-standing scientific studies of color and its effect on human behavior and psychology, the saturation of brands in any given market and the continued flattening of cultural boundaries make color selection for an identity a less-than-scientific endeavor.

That’s not to say that traditional rules of color theory should be thrown out. It simply means there are numerous criteria and inputs that can lead to the most powerful color selection for your brand’s identity. All appropriate considerations and brand objectives should be presented and weighed accordingly. Here are five things to remember when determining how to make color work for your brand.

1. Buck convention

Everyone acknowledges a key role for a brand identity is to help differentiate in a category. Yet we are still amazed at how the brands in many sectors still fall within a strict color spectrum. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and use color as a platform for telling your distinct story, even if it raises an eyebrow or two initially. We can think of a major telecommunications brand that’s pink, a global logistics brand that’s brown and a commercial bank that’s purple.

2. Understand how color will be used

Depending on where your brand will be applied and displayed, you might think about color in a different way. While the line between B2B and B2C brands gets blurrier by the day, there are different considerations for color when your primary touch point is a retail environment versus a website. For example, if one of your critical brand expressions is internally-illuminated signage, you might want to steer clear of dark blue as a primary color, due to its notorious legibility issues in that application.

3. Two can be better than one

It’s easy to point to some great brands that a singular color in a category as a branding best practice, but ultimately that can be pretty limiting. Color combinations can be just as effective if used consistently, and in some ways they can be even more differentiating and recognizable. Think of FedEx’s purple and orange, Mastercard’s red and yellow and Harley-Davidson’s Black and Orange.

4. Look outside your category

While understanding what your peers are doing from a color standpoint, don’t forget other categories that might have a very distinct color association in terms of mindshare with the general populous. For example, it can be tough to use earth tones and not be confused with an organic foods company, and the design blogosphere is full of folks asking if pink can ever be used again without being associated with breast cancer awareness.

5. Don’t be shortsighted

We’ve been in identity design presentations where someone asks, “Well, what’s the color forecast for next season? Have we considered that?” Color forecasting for fashion, interior design and even industrial design is a very viable and powerful tool in those categories; but color in terms of identity is not a “next season” decision. It’s a 10-year-plus proposition, and needs to be considered with the criteria discussed above: differentiation, personality and attributes, primary application and yes, knowledge of basic color theory.

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