The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette

The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette

Colours boost brand recognition by up to 80%, according to a study of the University of Loyola, Maryland. This doesn’t surprise me. Colours help us memorise information by increasing our attention. Colours also have the potential to evoke emotions and other associations in people.

Identify the right colour for your brand

Before you start to think about colours, it is critical to know your brand’s audience, competition and your unique position in the market. A brand strategy can be a helpful tool to set this foundation.

Know your audience

People judge a product within 90 seconds. Up to 90% of this judgement is based solely on colour (Institute of Color Research). But how colour is perceived can vary greatly depending on the personal context (culture, age, gender, values, etc.). It is important to take this into account when choosing your brand colour. The creation of personas might help you to do this.

Know your competition

Customers should never confuse your brand with your competition. This highlights the importance to perform a competitive analysis before you start to develop your visual identity. To stand out, be truly different. Colours play a significant role in this. You should also be aware that colours can be trademarked. Your colour choice may not be legally available in the industry you operate in.

Know your unique position

If you know what makes you different, you can build on that. Choose colours that help to communicate the unique purpose, values and personality of your brand. For example, if your brand is warm and accommodating, a cool blue might be the wrong brand colour.

Meaning of colours

Colours have meanings that have been established through evolution (e.g. red as a warning) and culture (e.g. white as a colour for weddings in western culture). It’s important to understand the cultural variation in the meaning of colour before you settle on a brand colour. David McCanless’s Infographic on Information is beautiful illustrates the cultural context of colours, nicely. This is just one example from his diagram. The colour associated with happiness ranges from green to red, depending on whom you ask.

The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette

Create the perfect colour palette for your brand

A brand doesn’t just use one colour. The art is to combine several colours that complement each other. There are no rules on how many colours you should use, but you need at least one neutral light colour (e.g. for backgrounds) and one neutral dark colour (e.g. for typography) in addition to one or more primary colours. Below, I’ll give you some tips on how to create the perfect colour palette.

1. Colour harmonies

Colour harmonies can help to define what colours you should use for your palette. They are best explained on the colour wheel.

The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Complementary. Complementary colour schemes use colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green.
The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Complementary. Complementary colour schemes use colours opposite each other on the colour wheel, such as red and green.
The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Triad. A triadic colour scheme uses colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel.
The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Split-Complementary. The split-complementary colour scheme is a variation of the complementary colour scheme. In addition to the base colour, it uses the two colours adjacent to its complement.
The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Rectangle. The rectangle colour scheme uses four colours arranged into two complementary pairs.
The importance of colour in branding and how to choose the perfect colour palette
Square. The square colour scheme is similar to the rectangle, but with all four colours spaced evenly around the colour circle.

Besides that, you can experiment with the saturation of each colour. While these rules are a good starting point, rules can be broken. There are more products and companies on the market today than ever before. Standing out is more difficult than ever. Surprising colour combinations can be one way to do so. A good example of this is the new visual identity design for Dropbox.

2. Colour pairing and proportion

A good colour palette alone only gets you so far. When you use your colours in equal proportions, chances are, the result is not that vibrant. I recently had the chance to attend a webinar with illustrator Greg Gunn. Greg mentioned that a good rule of thumb is to use colours in visual identity in the following proportions: primary colour 60%, secondary colour 30% and accent colour 10%. Although most identities don’t use exactly three colours, this is a good place to start.

example of proportioning three colours used in a visual identity design

3. Colour and function

There is an opportunity to dedicate specific functions to each colour of your visual identity. For example, you could introduce different colours for each sub-brand, as done by AdAge.

4. Online Tools

Finding great colours can be intimidating when you don’t know where to start. There are plenty of tools to help you define harmonious colour palettes, of which these are my favourites:

Pinterest is an excellent place to start getting inspired. Simply search for colour pallets, graphic inspiration or photography that uses interesting colours.

Adobe Color is a good place for both—to explore successful colour palettes and create your own. You can use presets, and even upload your references to extract colours from them. Later, Adobe Color allows you to export palettes in a variety of formats.

Coolors is similar to Adobe Color, but it has a more playful interface that prompts you to create more unexpected colour palettes.

The Material Color Tool allows you to test colours directly in simple user interfaces. Under Accessibility, you can also evaluate the legibility (how well black and white type reads on that colour).

I hope this article helped you understand the importance of the use of colour in branding and you gained some useful tips on creating your own colour palette. Please get in touch with me, if you have burning questions or interesting inputs.