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How to choose colors for your brand

One of the most common questions I hear as a brand designer is how do I choose colors for my brand? While there is no specific formula on how to choose colors there are a few tips I can share to help you in this decision. 

The most important tip: understand your brand personality 

When paring colors together together we will start to feel certain vibes, moods, feelings, and personalities as we make comparisons to everyday life. We can say a group of colors are bright and happy, dark and moody, beachy and relaxing, calming and airy, vibrant and exciting…different feelings and moods are evoked in us when we see color and color pallets.

We can also start comparing color pallets to our life experiences. For example, a color pallet that uses mostly pastel colors might be thought of as Eastery because those colors are often used in Easter images and Easter candy packaging. Here in Green Bay, use of greens and yellows will be related the the Green Bay Packers. So location can also influence how a person connects with color.

The important things to focus on is the personality, experience and emotions of your brand that you want your brand to convey. If your brand is down to earth, natural and wholesome you want colors that feel earthy, natural and wholesome. 

When looking at colors, answer the question: does the group of colors I am using evoke that same personality, experience and emotion of my brand?

Colors have meaning

Another thing to consider in choosing colors is meaning. Because of how feelings and life experiences are perceived we have placed different meanings on colors. Understanding the meaning of colors can also help you determine if that color represents the personality, experience and emotion of your brand.

Here are a few examples:
  • Greens, browns and neutrals feel give meaning and connection to earth because we see these colors in nature. Green specifically represents life and growth as we see green lawns and leaves grow and come to life each spring.
  • Reds and yellows are often seen as bright colors that together give a meaning of warmth and heat but also caution as you don’t touch something that is hot like the red and yellow flames of a fire or you may burn yourself. Red on it’s own is also very complex. It can convey love relating to hearts and red roses, while also being thought of as a reflection of anger and getting red in the face, and in Chinese culture it is seen as a color of luck, joy and happiness.
  • Blues are often seen as calming, like taking in a deep breath of air and looking up at the clouds in the sky or watching the waves of water ebb and flow; both sky and water benign something we perceive as blue. Blue is also often seen as a sign of trust and security.

If you would like to dive further into color theory and the meanings of colors, i recommend checking out this article featured in Smashing Magazine: Color Theory for Designers, Part 1: The Meaning of Color

Colors interact with each other

When we see mood boards or lists of brand colors they are often placed in a nice row, and care has been given so that they are visually appealing in that order. However, colors interact with one another — so have a little fun! Play with your colors and move them around to see how they interact.

A color may change visually when placed with another

Have you ever looked at a color on it’s own and then seen it next to another color and it looks a little different? The easiest example would be a color placed on a white background vs a black background. While the color itself has not changed, when we look at the same blue on these two backgrounds, visually the blue is perceived as looking different. Similarly, a blue placed next to a green will also look a bit different than when it is placed next to a red. 

Move your colors around your color group. Is there a large visual change in one of the colors when it is placed next to another one or two colors in your color group, and if so, does the change still allow for your colors to reflect your brand personality? 

Is there a color clash?
This is a big one! Because color groups in mood boards are often placed in a visually appealing way and seemingly go together it can be forgotten that these colors will move around in our use. Test your colors out in a Canva social media graphic! Are there any colors that, when placed next to each other, seem to clash and would make it hard to use together?  If you have trouble using the colors together a change might need to be made to your color group.

Finding a good mix

To avoid clashing colors understanding a bit about the color wheel may help. Understanding the color wheel can also help you understand how colors interact and how certain pairings can also affect your brand personality.

  • Monochromatic – Tints (added white/lighter) and shades (added black/darker) of the same color. A monochromatic color group makes it easy to pair colors that will be visually pleasing together. However, a completely monochromatic color group can often be seen as boring and lacking contrast and variety.
  • Complimentary – Two colors opposite each other on the color wheel are considered complementary. These are blue-orange, yellow-purple, and green-red. Complimentary colors have high contrast, so they work well together. However, if you are using large amounts of both complementary colors it can become visually overwhelming.
  • Analogous – Colors next to each other on the color wheel are harmonious and don’t stand out too much from each other. Examples are blue-green, red-orange, and green-yellow. This is a good way to add visual interest and variety to your color group.

When I’m creating a color pallet I like to make sure there is at least one set of monochromatic colors, one set of complementary colors and fill it in with analogous colors and neutrals to create a good balance of contrast and harmony. But of course, you always want to go back to that most important tip of understanding your brand personality. If the personality is bold and contrasting the color group may lean a bit more complimentary, or if subdued and quiet it might lean more monochromatic.

How many colors should be in a color group

Let’s talk logos for a second
When it comes to how many colors to put in your logo, three is my recommendations for the max amount of colors to include. Logos should be more simplistic and consider versatility in use. More colors may make it harder for a logo to be effective in some situations. Especially in a single color when it relies on color to define and contrast elements. More colors also mean higher printing costs, especially when we are talking screen printing your logo on promotional items or apparel.

Beyond the logo — defining primary and secondary colors

When we move beyond the logo you can open up your brand to a larger color group. Six to eight total colors is a good reference point. However, in your color group, don’t be afraid to define primary, secondary and even tertiary and accent colors. Your logo color(s) will likely be your primary colors, while your secondary colors are used to complement and add more interest. Tertiary colors are ones that can round out a color group for your brand but are used less in your branding and marketing.

Would you consider a design system helpful? Let me know in the comments.

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About the Creative

My days are filled with thinking outside of the box, dreaming big and seeing inspiration in the unexpected. I find ways to bring new life to the ordinary and solve challenges. At my core I simply love to create and explore. When I’m not sitting behind a sketch book or computer to create my next design, I am still creating with art, photography, and writing and finding inspiration through the creation of new memories and experiences. 


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