In branding, there are several issues to consider concerning color. First, you need to master the physical aspects of color, which mostly have to do with graphic design: boldness, dynamic tension, legibility, and so on. Second, you need to consider how colors (and their combinations) make people feel. Certain colors have a soothing effect, while others have the opposite. Third, you must understand the cultural associations of certain colors. Is this color considered good luck in this country? Additionally, colors go in and out of fashion on a regular basis within any given market. Finally, it’s important to master the science of color; to make sure the inks in the brochure match the plastics in the furniture, the graphics on the web, and the neon on the roof.
All of these issues will help answer a simple question: what difference will it make if a logo is red or green? You should be able to answer the corollaries, too: what impressions of the brand are evoked by the colors we choose for the packaging?
Why should we avoid using yellow in the advertising? Is it possible to have too many colors on the website?
Renaissance artists honed their color use meticulously, and handed down rules for using colors, based on physical laws, that we still respect. “Warm” colors (like red, yellow, and orange) appear to come forward in space, while “cool” colors (like blue, green, and purple) appear to recede. The judicious use of such colors in painting can give an impression of real depth.
Color combinations play other important roles as well. Contrasting tones increase the dynamic tension of an image. Color makes a page either inviting or aloof. The right (or wrong) combination can make a huge difference to the legibility of signs, billboards, websites, and brochures. Even a subtly discouraging color combination can put customers off a brand, while the right color scheme can prove irresistibly inviting.
The psychological aspects of color have been mused upon since ancient times. Many artists and poets have bequeathed us their well-considered opinions. While a brand designer may consider these, a client’s personal color likes and dislikes could well take precedence.
Tests have shown that people react to colors in predictable ways. Psychologists generally believe that our fundamental understanding of color is universal—white equates with purity, purple equates with passion—but opinions vary regarding how much our reactions are affected by culture.
Brands that can build up and exploit strong color associations can gain a valuable advantage because color can be a powerful brand mnemonic. Al and Laura Ries, in their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, discuss the need for a brand to “own” its colors, not literally, but in the minds of customers. The Rieses cite McDonald’s ownership of the red and yellow color combination, which leaves rival Burger King in a “me too” role with its red, yellow, and blue scheme. Color comes to be associated with a given brand in the customer’s mind through long acclimatization. Brands should settle early in their lives on a simple scheme of one or two main colors that are unique in that category, and use them consistently.