If we showed you a white letter ’F’ in a blue square, you would immediately recognise it as Facebook’s logo. Similarly, the yellow outline of a rectangle conjures up National Geographic. What about a red square with a “play” triangle in it? We know that as YouTube.
Working to make your logo both iconic and synonymous with your brand, matters. No senior marketer needs telling that once you have a brand that is right for your company, it will do the hard work for you - one glance and your customers know who you are, what you’re selling, and that they can trust you.
Which is why designers spend such an inordinate amount of time and expertise on creating recognisable and attractive branding and logos - and it goes without saying that this process always begins with choosing the right colours. The ‘right’ colours being those that will immediately make you stand out from the competition and tell your audience something about who you are at the merest glance. Here, we’ll explore why we react to logos and colours in the (many and varying) ways that we do.
“Colour plays an important role in marketing products. It is a powerful marketing tool that influences consumer purchases in many aspects. Marketers must explore the harmony of colours for successful marketing of products.” From “The Psychology of Colour Influences Consumers’ Buying Behaviour “, 2017 Ushus Journal of Business Management
The psychology of colour in branding is both important and interesting to note when creating your logo and brand.
Aspects of colour psychology to consider include colour theory, colour harmony, colour associations and the effect of different colours on how we feel – all of which we’ll elaborate on further here, so that you can see which (or the combination of which) might work best for your company.
Colour theory explores how we might group different colours together to create a particular effect.
There are three categories of colours - primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary colours consist of red, yellow and blue. Secondary colours are orange, green and violet. And there are six tertiary colours, formed by mixing one primary and one secondary colour. They are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet.
You can find these groupings on a colour wheel, which can be useful to use in order to see the colours and their relationship to each other more clearly.
Beyond the primary, secondary and tertiary groupings, colours can also be categorised as warm (red, yellow and orange), cold (blue and green) or neutral (brown or grey).
Understanding colour theory and how colours are grouped can be helpful in informing your choice of colour for your branding and logo.
Harmony and trusting your instincts
You want branding that pops out and catches your customers’ attention, but that won’t overwhelm their senses. Whilst something that is too bland will not catch anyone’s eye,
putting fairy lights on top of a multi-coloured, bio-luminescent logo will draw attention for all of the wrong reasons.
The same can apply to choosing between patterns and order – or a moderate mixture of both. Simple is good ...but not too simple. Catchy ...but not too catchy.
Ideally, a logo or brand will have a sense of harmony (after all, in Greek Mythology, Harmonia (Harmony) was the daughter of Aphrodite - the God of beauty).
To create a sense of harmony in your brand and logo, grouping warm, cold or neutral colours together is a good place to start. Don’t be scared of using neutral colours - neutral doesn’t have to mean bland, instead it could imply steady dependability, which will be perfect for some companies.
Conversely, well-organised contrasts can also work harmoniously, like black with white, or red and blue.
There have been many attempts to define colour harmony and put a definite measure on what is and isn’t harmonious. But fashions change and we are always linked to our context – to our time, place and cultural references - meaning this is hard to define.
“The preferences that are empirically determined in the laboratory may bear no resemblance to preferences and choices made by art and design practitioners in the context of an expressive idea or in response to a design brief”. ”Colour Harmony”, 2007 Colour Journal.
In short, trust your instincts and find a balance that works for you. We are hardwired to instinctively know what is harmonious. So if it looks right, it probably is.
Psychological effect of colours and associations
Different colours provoke a range of responses and feelings. Understanding how colours might affect your customers’ mood is important when choosing the colours that will represent your brand.
● Orange: Orange is eye-catching and vibrant. It’s perfect if you want to create a sense of urgency, enthusiasm or excitement, and could suit a business like an
adventure holiday company. As it’s a warm colour it could be the right fit if you are selling an active holiday in a hot country.
● Red: Red too creates a sense of action, but it can also provoke some powerful emotions. Red can engender survival emotions which are associated with action, but also with fight or flight, potentially making people feel angry and stressed depending on how it’s used. Red can also make us hungry and you’ll notice it in food and drink brands like McDonalds and Coca-Cola. If you want to encourage people to take action - anything from joining your gym to inviting them to “click here” on your website - red is the colour for you.
● Yellow: As the lightest of the warm colours, yellow can evoke similar feelings of action and motivation to red and orange, but it’s also tempered with other associations like creativity, hope and fun. It might be best paired with another colour, such as green, to strike a balance between exciting a customer’s creativity whilst also giving your brand a hint of authority. It’s good to be aware that yellow can also make some people feel stressed and nervous.
● Green: Green is associated with nature and has a calming effect, which can create a sense of stability. Darker greens are also associated with money and wealth. The right green can make your brand feel approachable as well as professional and authoritative. Go for a grassy green if your product is associated with the outdoors, such as a gardening company, or a dark green for businesses that need to give the impression of seriousness and trust - a financial law firm, for example.
● Blue: Blue is the most calming colour of all, making us think of the sea’s lapping waves on a beach or a cloud-free sky. It creates a sense of peace and can help to build trust between you and your customers. Though it’s also important to be aware that some blues can appear a bit strait-laced, implying a more conservative attitude.
● Purple: Purple suggests creativity, but it can also give a sense of authority to your brand, and it has long been associated with royalty.
● Black: Black is mysterious, it can also conversely be dependable, and of course it can evoke feelings of sadness. It is a useful colour for clarity (such as when using text) or as a contrast to make brighter colours elsewhere in the brand really stand out.
● Brown: Like the soil beneath our feet, brown is dependable, trustworthy and reliable. It can make customers feel safe. However, depending on how it is used, it can also have associations with sadness and loneliness.
Take a look at the branding below, which we produced for Wilshire. As you’ll see, we used blue colours for the corporate marketing pieces, to convey the sense of harmony and confidence the company offers.
Then through the use of light blue and purple, we reinforce the idea of power and nobility. We aimed to express these ideas on the “clarity from complexity” side of the company in particular. The “clarity from complexity” strapline outlines the company’s ability to deliver clear information and give succinct direction with regard to complex financial data.To express that, we connected the graphic colour slide, which highlights Wilshire’s most important attributes.
By contrast, we then selected warmer, earthy tones and colours for the “investing in a better future” section, as seen below. These (especially when combined with the chosen images) convey a more human, approachable side to the company. The section is all about empowering customers to make better, long-term investments - the implication being that this will be a good idea for their beneficiaries - hence the warm, family-oriented feel.
A time and a place
The psychological effect that different colours have is not set in stone, and colours can mean something very different to a particular place or culture. What is evoked by a colour can also change depending on the kind of activities associated with a season or time of year.
This is outlined neatly in this piece by Shopify app, sixads, which talks about the importance of knowing about the associations your colour choice has for different places at different times.
For example, if you are selling holidays to Spain, you may think about using orange due to its association with hot, sunny days full of adventure and activity. However, if your customers are American, in October they would likely associate the colour orange with Halloween pumpkins and preparing for the cold months of winter.
Cymbolism says: “How your users react to colour choices depends on factors such as gender, experience, age and culture. In all cases, you should design for accessibility – e.g., regarding red-green colour blindness.
“Through UX research, you can fine-tune colour choices to resonate best with specific users. Your users will encounter your design with their own expectations of what a design in a certain industry should look like.”
The importance of association
Eye-catching colours are great, but count for little if we do not perceive them to be linked to their product.
“As a marketing tool, colour attracts consumers, consequently shaping their perception” Colour matters: The Impact of Logo Colour on Consumer Perceived Eco-Friendliness, 2020, Expert Journal of Marketing.
In the quoted article, brands were attempting to associate themselves with their environmental credentials. The writer concluded by telling the brands: “We suggest marketing managers use green colours in their logo designs to promote their
This might seem like obvious advice, but colour can be used to either gently (or more forcefully) transmit a message about your brand that will reflect its personality.
EasyJet’s orange, for example, is so ‘in your face’ it could be described as tacky - but it suits EasyJet well as they aren’t trying to be a first-class airline for millionaires. Through the use of a more garish colour we might just be being reminded that EasyJet are the cheapest airline.
A study into tea products being sold in the Indonesian village of Gumbung found an unlikely correlation between branding and perception, where seemingly low-quality branding was a strength.
“The logo design and colour selection of the tea product packaging logo from Gambung are still relatively simple and made from simple boxes or paper and simple branding so that expensive products seem cheap,” said the 2022 article entitled The concept of colour psychology and logos to strengthen brand personality of local products in the Linguistics and Culture Review.
What message would you like to give with your branding? Are you an established and trustworthy firm that has years of experience, making sophisticated, mahogany-coloured logos with powerful, clear, black text the right choice for you? Or are you the budget option - cheap, cheerful and reliable, meaning fun, bright, plastic-looking logos are the best way to catch your customers’ attention?
Either way, colours matter. They can help you to attract the customers you want and provoke very strong emotions in people.
And, no matter how good your product, they are the difference between creating a brand that is immediately recognised and trusted by your customers, or not being noticed at all.
If you have questions about any of the points raised here, or would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at SmallGiants – we’re always happy to help.