Small Business Marketing: Color Theory Part 1 - Introduction to Colors
March 07, 2021
Branding and marketing are often very difficult to tackle and optimize. There are dozens of factors that go into presenting certain ideas or emotions to the audience and it can be challenging to create a cohesive picture. One of the many factors involved in brand design is color theory. Although seemingly very simple and obvious, there is actually a great deal of detail and complexity to color theory. Understanding and implementing the right color choices can elevate your brand design to a new level simply on its own. Often overlooked, color theory is one of the most fundamental skills of a good graphic designer and can lead to significantly more successful designs.
Before tackling any details about color theory itself it is important to recognize colors properly and understand what we are dealing with. Most people have seen a color wheel but have most likely given it very little thought. The color wheel displays the entire range of colors available to us, however without any change to the saturation or brightness. In reality, the color wheel only presents us with every available hue. A more detailed color wheel that you may have observed on an editing software such as Adobe Photoshop will display a range of colors for every color with varying levels of hue, saturation and brightness. In simple terms, saturation refers to the intensity of a hue. A color with 100% saturation will be a vibrant color like we see on the basic color wheel and a 0% saturation color will always be gray. Alternatively, shifting the brightness of a color creates what we call tints or shades, brighter or darker variations of the base hue.
Now that we understand the basics of a color wheel and can identify what we’re looking at, we can move on to what each color actually represents. Every color, as might seem intuitive, evokes a very different set of emotions and ideas. After millennium of human history and conditioning, our brains draw certain relationships between specific colors and ideas. This can help us a great deal in deciding which colors to choose for our designs and branding.
Red is known for evoking strong emotional responses. Often associated with passion or danger, if not both, red is a color of action and used for a thrilling or adventurous tone. Red is a very reliable color we often see in branding that catches our attention. Using too much or too highly saturated red may cause an over aggressive response however and is often best left to a striking accent or subtle elements. It does however pair well with softer tins and shades and other less vibrant hues.
Orange is the fair medium between the energy of red and the vibrancy of yellow. Orange is usually used to indicate fresh, casual and confident emotions. It can be used very well for elegant designs by muting the vibrancy and saturation. However, it may also pair with other vibrant hues when used as a shade, closer to brown.
The color of sunshine, often used for cheerfulness, warmth and purity. Yellow is also an incredibly vibrant hue in all levels of saturation and can be an instantly eye-catching color. It is often a popular choice to attract audiences to particular places. It can also be used effectively as an accent to offset a less vibrant design and bring it to life.
One of the most common colors in nature that is automatically associated to lush greenery by our brains. Green is predictably used to represent prosperity and growth. Green is a very common choice for logos and branding because of its variety of meanings and its safe reassuring ambiance. Green is particularly pleasant for the eyes and makes for a reliable dominant color in a design or logo and can pair in many different ratios with other hues.
Perhaps the most commonly used color and the most reliable for the human brain, blue represents the dazzling sea and the vast bright skies. Blue, like green, has a plethora of meanings and can symbolize anything from peace to loyalty to trustworthiness. With less saturation it can also represent more depressing emotions such as melancholy and hopelessness. Many brands use blue because of its almost universal preference. Blue works well paired with warmer hues to make it stand out.
Purple is often used to represent luxury, stemming from its association with royalty in the past. It can still be used for luxurious and vibrant designs or can even be paired with other bright and warm hues to create a very bold futuristic image. In less saturated varieties however, it can also represent peace and tranquility as well as elegance.
Instinctively, people recognize pink as representing feminine or romantic emotions. It can however, especially in different cultures, be used to represent other emotions such as lightheartedness, trust or innovation. Pink is notable as one of the few tints that has created its own identity as opposed to the hue it is based off of. Although it can still be paired with the same colors as red, it creates a whole different image and atmosphere when used properly. It pairs very well with other muted hues and starkly contrasting colors.