“At every era of his existence and his history, the human being has associated color with his joys, his actions, and his pleasures.”

Fernand Léger

From your office décor to your business cards, colors communicate very strong messages about your brand.

You can make or break perceptions with the right or wrong brand colors.

Your audience makes an initial judgment of a brand within the first moments of interaction. At least 50% of that judgment is based on color. 13

In fact, color is so important to branding that you can protect specific hues with copyright law.

So let’s choose you the right brand colors.

This chapter covers:

  • The psychology of color.
  • Personal preference vs general rules.
  • Steps for creating a color palette.

The psychology of color

Colors evoke strong emotions in your audience. This happens in the deepest part of our brain. We cannot shut off their effects, and most of them happen without our conscious consent. In other words:

The effects of color on your audience are largely automatic.

In Drunk Tank Pink, author Adam Alter describes how the police paint their holding cells a certain hue of pink in order to calm delinquents down.

He also mentions a football team dying the opponent’s dressing room in the same pink, attempting to pacify their competitive instincts before a game.

Colors directly influence behavior.

Hot-colored pills (red, orange) work better as stimulants whilst cool-colored pills (blue, green) work better as depressants. This dramatic effect is seen in all human activity.

Branding is no exception.

So what colors should you use? Well, It all depends on your brand promise. Do you want your brand to be seen as expensive or affordable? Rough or sophisticated? Exciting or reliable?

If your brand fulfills a need or solves a problem, you might go for blue or green. But if you want to signal social status or some cool attitude, you might use black or orange.

Colors should evoke the brand promise.

That’s why McDonald’s changed from red to green. And why the riot police drops the blue for black when the sh*t hits the fan.

Your hamburger tastes less toxic when the logo is green. And you feel more intimidated by black-clad enforcers.

If the brand colors do not match the brand promise, you’re in trouble.

No one would buy brown lingerie, for brown means rugged. Likewise, pink outdoors gear would only be sold to genderqueer hunters. (A very small market, or so I’m told.)

Every color shades into others.

This means that if you choose a color between blue and green, you will carry associations from both, albeit muddled.

Personal preference vs general rules

Different people have different reactions to colors. Some think grey is cool. Others think it’s dull. That’s why your phone is sold in pink and gold for the ladies and black and grey for the men, making sure everyone is served.

You can use different colors to serve personal preferences.

Yet certain rules hold across genders and cultures:

  • Most people like
  • Most people dislike
  • Brown is hard to pull
  • Bright colors are remembered more
  • Primary colors (red, yellow, blue) are remembered more

Keep these in the back of your mind as you pick your colors. But don’t let them guide your thinking too much: focus on what your brand has to promise.

Step 1: Create a color palette

It’s time to pick some colors for your brand.

A. Choose one or two main colors that evoke your brand

You can use a visual on your mood board. There are tools to distill colors from them. Alternatively, you can use a palette collection for inspiration.

B. Limit your main colors to PANTONE

Pantone is a company that defined the proprietary colors used in printing. If you pick one of their colors, you’re sure it can be reproduced everywhere.

I strongly advise using the PANTONE color picker, instead of using regular color coding like RGB, CMYK or HEX.

PANTONE colors allow for full-color consistency across your entire Brand Experience because they can always be printed. If you’re not using PANTONE, check if your colors are printable.

C. Choose multiple colors to form a harmonious

Your brand needs multiple colors. While logos often use a single color, the rest of your brand requires a pallet. You can highlight different aspects with different colors.

Experiment with a color picker to discover different shades of your chosen colors.

A palette must contain similar hues in order to maintain harmony. For example, blue and light blue are natural allies. Also:

  • Some color pairs are hard to rhyme, like blue and
  • Highly contrasting colors are experienced as
  • Color is most easily varied across lightness (adding white).

You can make a color lighter or brighter. Tweak them to your needs.

D. Write down the codes of each

PANTONE, RGB, CMYK and HEX code for every color in your palette. These will be used by every graphic designer and web builder who works on your brand.

Step 2: Name your colors

The name of your color matters. You are far more likely to buy a “charcoal” colored phone than a regular “black” one. You perceive a “rose” towel as softer than the identical “red” version.

People prefer fancy color names to generic ones.

So never sell a brown cow or a red cow. Sell a “mocha” cow or a “fuschia” cow. Some lipsticks like “moonlight” or “tenderheart” don’t even suggest a real hue! This step is simple: drum up something fancy and your audience thinks it’s extra special.

There’s no reason to say “white” when you can say “cotton”.

Step 3: Test your colors

You might want to review your color selection after you’ve designed some more brand identity elements.

Colors are easier to judge when tangible, like in a logo or a website.

By showing people several variations of a color within a logo, it’s easier to tell you what they prefer. It is very hard to ask people for an opinion by just showing them a colored square.

If they think another color better expresses your brand promise, build a new palette.

Summary and steps for choosing colors for your brand.

You can make or break perceptions with the right or wrong brand colors. The effects of color on your audience are largely automatic, as they directly influence behavior.

Step 1: Create a color palette

  1. Choose one or two main colors that evoke your brand
  2. Limit your main colors to PANTONE
  3. Choose multiple colors to form a harmonious
  4. Write down the codes of each color.

Step 2: Name your colors.

Step 3: Test your choices by incorporating them in a design.

Save your work. Put your palette to a folder called “/brandname/identity/ colors/”. You can put the color names, colors and codes in a PowerPoint (.PPT) or a simple text file (.TXT).