Photo of colorful young boy during the Holi celebration

Color is a powerful design tool. From a user experience perspective, color and icons provide essential navigation guidance across apps and websites. Color also influences customers’ brand perception, sparking emotional responses, drawing attention to key messages, and putting them in the right frame of mind to make a purchase.

Color theory is a complex topic. For a detailed overview, reference this Elementor article. However, you do not need to be a design professional to create an attractive color palette that supports your brand identity.

This essay provides some simple guidance and examples to help you create your own color palette.

Color Psychology

Different colors are often associated with meanings or feelings. Understanding these associations will help you choose a color palette to support your brand personality and value proposition.

The color psychology chart below describes emotions and themes traditionally associated with colors. For deeper dive into colors and their meanings check out this Canva link.

Chart summarizing the emotional meaning of major color families

Source: User Testing

Use Color to Drive Brand Identity

As discussed previously, branding is the process of creating a distinct identity for a business in the mind of your target audience. Through consistent application, your brand communicates your unique value proposition and brand personality through every consumer interaction, building trust and recognition.

Because of the strong association between color and emotions, creating a palette that aligns with your brand ethos can be an effective visual driver of your identity. The examples below illustrate how three major corporations have effectively used color to reinforce their brand:

McDonald’s Corporation

McDonald's logo combines red and yellow to symbolize warmth, excitement and happiness

McDonald’s unique selling proposition is “Food, Folks, and Fun”, which reinforces their commitment to providing an enjoyable and memorable dining experience for customers of all ages (source: Linkedin).

Red and yellow are featured in the McDonald’s logo, and are carried through their packaging, advertising and store layouts. These colors support their value proposition by evoking feelings of warmth, love, cheer, excitement, and happiness.

Boeing Aerospace Ltd.

Boeing Aerospace log is deep blue, symbolizing trust and commitment.

As a global leader in the production of commercial airplanes, defense products and space system, Boeing’s value proposition is, “to lead on safety, quality, integrity, and sustainability”.

Every time a consumer boards a Boeing plane, they trust that the corporation’s products will transport them safely to their destination. Boeing’s blue and white color palette emphasizes the importance they place on earning trust and demonstrating competence.

L.L. Bean Inc.

L.L. Bean logo is green, emphasizing their commitment to outdoor activities

L.L. Bean believes, “the more time you spend outside together, the better. That’s why we design products that make it easier to take longer walks, have deeper talks and never worry about the weather.”

The company highlights their deep focus on the outdoors using a lovely forest green color, which is applied consistently through all brand assets including the logo, packaging, store design and marketing materials.

Color and Accessibility

Accessibility and readability are key factors in choosing brand colors, for all consumers but most importantly to meet the needs of color-blind and other visually impaired individuals.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are industry design standards for accessibility. Free online tools are available to assess your digital assets for compliance to these guidelines, including Google’s WCAG Contrast Checker. These valuable tools help ensure the legibility of your digital assets and promote a positive customer experience.

Choosing a Color Palette

The key to creating a color palette that supports your brand and appeals to your target audience is to keep the palette simple and take advantage of online tools to help with the selection process.

Carleton University recommends creating a 3-color brand palette – a base, an accent and a neutral – following the process outlined below:

  • Base Color should reflect your brand’s most dominant personality trait and appeal to your target audience. This color will also help determine the other brand colors.
  • Accent Color must match a brand personality trait, pair well visually with the base color and appeal to your audience.
  • Neutral Color will be a background color that avoids added attention. Neutral colors are typically a hue of grey, beige, white or off-white.

 

Once you have an idea of what your color families will be, there are a number of free, online color palette generators that can help support selection of the accent and neutral colors, such as Coolors , Canva , and Adobe Express.

The Language of Color

When working with color, there are a few important terms and definitions that will help you communicate with printers and simplify working with design sites such as Canva and Adobe Express:

  • Hex Code is a number system used in digital design. Each hex code refers to a very specific color, which allows designers to be on the same page about the exact color they are referring to.
  • Hue refers to the origin of the colors we can see. Primary and Secondary colors (Yellow, Orange, Red, Violet, Blue, and Green) and tertiary colors (mixed colors where neither color is dominant) are all considered hues.
  • Tint  refers to any hue or mixture of pure colors to which white is added and is paler than the original. Pastel colors are tinted colors.
  • Tone refers to any hue to which only pure gray is added, which will dull its intensity.
  • Shade  refers to any hue to which only black is added. This darkens the color, but the hue remains the same.

 

Special thanks to Beach Painting for providing these straightforward definitions.

Summary

I hope you have enjoyed our exploration of color! Used consistently, color is a valuable tool to reinforce a company’s brand identity and value proposition with a target audience. Please post any questions or insights in the comments section.

In the next session we will discuss the role of typography in brand management.