Strong Fundamentals

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How to pick a colour palette for your branding

Seth Matisak

Head of Design @ Forward Partners

Colour is a vital part of building out your brand personality as it has the ability to convey message and meaning without words. Remember though, branding is the sum of a few different components: logo, typography, texture, imagery, tone of voice, animations, customer service, colour and any other brand touchpoint. All of those components need to work together to create that optimal brand experience so customers come back again and again. Colour being one of the first things they’ll notice makes it all that much more important to consider.

“People make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with products. About 62‐90% of the assessment is based on colours alone. So, prudent use of colours can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors, but also to influencing moods and feelings

-- Satyendra Singh, (2006) "Impact of color on marketing", Management Decision, Vol. 44 Issue: 6, pp.783-789, doi:   10.1108/00251740610673332.

Key takeaways

  • Colour Harmony is a great starting point for choosing your palette

  • Common colour expectations makes it easy to narrow down your palette

  • Specific colours can target certain genders & countries

  • Learn what tools can help you pick colour palettes

I don’t want to overwhelm (or bore) you with too much terminology or get too involved with the psychology of colour because it can get very complex very quickly. Instead, I will show you how combining three basic things: Colour Harmony, colour personality traits and colour targeting will help you achieve a palette that doesn't just fit but enhances the brand personality you’re trying to portray.

I’m going to skip the primary, secondary and tertiary colour explanations (feel free to have a refresh of those here) and jump right into what makes a palette sing. This is called Colour Harmony.

What is Colour Harmony?

Colour Harmony is the arrangement of colours that engages the eye to create a pleasing and balanced visual experience. You need Colour Harmony for your palette to be effective. To achieve it you need the correct formulas, so let's go over three basic formulas that you can use while creating your palette.

Colour Harmony formulas

Analogous – Based on two or more colors that sit side-by-side on the color wheel. These colours match well together and create a comfortable palette. Be careful to have enough contrast between the shades of your palette or your design will start to blur together and you’ll be left with no hierarchy.

Analogous Example

Insurance Jack uses a few different blue colours that mingle nicely together. There is clear hierarchy and the mood is calm. They even took the palette a step further and made sure their imagery contained blue, which enhances the palette even more. Notice how the all the colours provide an nice contrast so information is always legible and there is a clear hierarchy.

Monochromatic – This harmony focuses on using varying tints, tones and shades of the same colour family. It’s typically the easiest and safest to use. You can very rarely go wrong when implementing this color scheme.

Monochromatic Example

Netlife Research makes great use of green shades to create a bold, fresh and high contrast colour palette. I like to think Monochromatic is like doubling down on a specific colour. Netlife went all in on green and the results are stunning.

Complementary – To be complementary means you have two or more colors opposite of each other on the color wheel. This color scheme is the middle ground between monochromatic and analogous. It gives you more visual variety and isn’t as hard to implement.

Complementary Example

Magnium’s use of complementary colours is unique and eye-catching. The cool temperature of blue is contrasted by the warmth of the yellow and orange to create a well balanced colour palette that feels fresh and welcoming.

Those 3 colour harmonies are a great place to start when choosing colours that will create a pleasing and eye catching palette but how do you know which colour represents your brand personality?

Which colours represent what?

Colours in general have common personality expectations attached to them. As you’ll see in the graphic below, companies are able to align themselves with colours because they represent certain personality traits that match those of the company.

Obviously these are very basic examples and each of these colours has their own range of tints, tones and shades. Just think of these as your starting point and work to find different tones to create that perfect colour harmony.

Colour targeting

Do certain colours target certain genders?

If your product's target audience has a clear cut main gender, it’s very important to understand certain colours can resonate more with them. Studies (colour preferences) have shown that men tend to gravitate towards bold colours while women prefer softer colours. Men also prefer darker tones of those bold colours while women responded more to lighter tones of soft colours.  

Knowing these little nuances can be the difference between hitting your target market or completely missing the mark but it’s just not genders to be aware of. You have to think of cultures and location as well!

Colours around the world

Did you know that in Belgium blue is a colour used for baby girls while pink is used for baby boys? While in the USA it’s the opposite. Knowing which colours mean what in different parts of the world can be very useful so you don't offend or target the wrong audience. If you are designing in or for different countries please take a look at this handy colour chart showing what colours mean in different areas of the world.  

https://www.six-degrees.com/pdf/International-Color-Symbolism-Chart.pdf (International colour symbolism)

Legibility in colour palettes    

Sometimes colours that look fantastic and read well at large sizes disappear and become illegible at small sizes. Make sure to test your palette on different size shapes and text to double check it’ll work at all sizes. The last thing you want to is to choose an amazing looking palette for it to fail at different sizes.

What tool can I use to find colour harmony?

There are quite a few colour picker tools out there and you’ll find a list at the bottom of this article. Having said that, there is one that sticks out as a go to tool for me. It’s called Adobe Color CC. http://kuler.adobe.com

You can simply pick your desired colour harmony formula (or what Adobe calls Colour Rule) and play around with the colour wheel until you get to your desired palette. Super simple to pick up and super quick! Take it for a spin!

Colour is obviously an important part of your branding. It’s one of the first things people notice when they look at your product so having a pleasing palette will help entice them to spend a little more time with you. I know it can seem a little daunting at first but take it one step at a time. If you know the personality you’re trying to portray through your branding it makes picking your colour a lot easier.

Just remember, colour is only one part of the branding equation. Have a read about how typography helps define brand personality as well.

USEFUL LINKS

http://paletton.com/#uid=14s160kllllaFw0g0qFqFg0w0aF(colour harmony picker similar to adobe color cc)

https://www.six-degrees.com/pdf/International-Color-Symbolism-Chart.pdf (international colour symbolism)

https://coolors.co (create or find pleasing colour palettes)

http://colormind.io ( Colour scheme generator)

http://leaverou.github.io/contrast-ratio/#%237DB082-on-white

(accessibility colour contrast checker - you’ll want your colours to be high enough contrast that all people can distinguish them. The Colour blind and older demographics see colour differently so make sure your colours are dark enough to see properly)

https://uigradients.com/#Blush (gradient creator)

Seth Matisak

Head of Design @ Forward Partners

Seth brings 7 years of design experience from around the world including Washington DC, Cleveland, Ohio and Malta having won awards for his print and packaging designs. He has a strong passion for all things branding and helped maintain brand standards for world-wide corporations (Nestle, Nokia, John Deere, Kimberly Clark and Sherwin Williams) while also creating new and engaging brands for start-ups, city organisations and charities while his ability to transition his layout and branding skills to the digital world has resulted in clean, intuitive and modern web designs.

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