Quite a lot, actually, which is why color is one of the most important aspects of your brand identity. Color can evoke certain moods and emotional or physical responses as well as shape viewers’ impressions about the nature and character of your business. The colors you choose for your logo and marketing collateral can either support what you’re trying to communicate or work against it. It stands to reason then that color is serious business!
Before I go on about what certain colors communicate, I should say that how colors are perceived is not an exact science (what in graphic design is?). Research shows that personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences and context can affect how individual colors affect people.
We CAN generalize to some degree about the symbolism and meaning attached to various colors, but we should do so with the knowledge that nothing is written in stone or guaranteed. Read on for an overview of various colors and what they are GENERALLY interpreted to mean and what reactions they are likely to evoke.
Blue is considered the color of trust, dependability and calm. Think about it - what kinds of businesses use blue a lot? Banks and social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). Banks want us to trust them because - you know - we give them our money. Social media sites want us to trust them because who’s going to join a site that makes you feel kind of scared and uncertain?
It also communicates cleanliness, fresh air, the sky, water and the sea. It makes sense then that it’s popular with companies that sell things like cleaning products, bottled water, and air conditioners, along with airlines and cruise lines.
Ever see blue used in restaurant logos or food packaging? Maybe, but it’s not the norm because it suppresses appetites.
It’s also got a strong masculine association, and some studies have found that guys like it more than other colors.
BUT beware of too much blue because it can also come across as cold and aloof, which isn’t terribly helpful when you’re trying to attract customers.
It’s all over the place (which is a good thing!), especially with businesses that have something to do with nature. That’s because green is strongly connected with nature, growth, fertility, freshness, serenity and healing. It represents new growth (spring!) and is often used in stores to relax shoppers.
Darker greens say money, banking and wealth, while it’s the lighter greens that are considered calming. Green can also suggest inexperience, as when someone new to something is referred to as “green.” Cool fact – it was the preferred color of wedding gowns in the 15th century, which makes sense due to it's connection to fertility.
Green also makes people feel safe. It suggests stability, which makes total sense when you think about early humans. Being surrounded by a lush and green landscape was reassuring to our ancestors as it meant there was plenty of water and little danger of famine. Its association with the sea also suggests depth and stability.
Green also slows the human metabolism, which is why it’s calming, so if you’re feeling stressed, go outside and look at the trees and grass. Unless, of course you live in a concrete jungle or it’s winter, in which case go eat some spinach, and look at it for a bit before you dive in. Whatever works.
Yellow is considered the color of sunshine, warmth, joy, intellect, happiness and energy. Yellow's the brightest color on the visible spectrum and is most noticeable of all colors by the human eye.
This sunny color is also emotionally and mentally stimulating. For you mompreneurs and mompreneurs to be, this is good to know because apparently, babies cry more in yellow rooms. For creatives, on the other hand, this is great because yellow influences the left side of the brain where deep thinking and perception happen.
The right yellow can lift our spirits, boost our confidence and self esteem and encourage optimism. If you want to cheer someone up, a big bouquet of yellow flowers should do the trick!
The wrong yellow or too much yellow can have the opposite effect, causing fear and anxiety, which is why it’s sometimes associated with cowardice and emotional fragility. Although I have to say that the last time I heard someone call someone else “yellow” was about – well - never in real life.
Yellow’s also an attention-grabber and symbolizes caution (think taxi caps and traffic lights).
Orange is the color of adventure and social communication.
It combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow, giving us joy, sunshine, warmth, playfulness, physical comfort and sensuality. Less intense than red, orange is considered a fun color and shows up a lot in logos to stimulate emotions and appetites (the Food Network).
Orange encourages a positive outlook and can help us stay optimistic when navigating life’s difficult patches. It inspires action, courage, and some risk taking and can make us feel physically stronger. It might even bring on a bit of showing off.
It’s a super social color and encourages people to communicate, making it a great color to have around during parties.
It sometimes signifies aggression and can be used in calls to action to influence buyers. It’s also associated with affordability and good value (think Payless and Home Depot).
Too much orange can bring on exhibitionism, superficiality, cheapness, dependence and arrogance.
RED is one intense color!
Red is a powerful color with strong physical connections. As the color of fire and blood, red is associated with energy, war, danger and power. It brings on a strong physiological reaction, increasing heart rate and breathing.
Red's symbolism also includes passion, desire and love. Apparently, people wearing red are often thought to be more attractive than people not wearing red. And waitresses wearing red usually get higher tips.
It’s emotionally intense and appears to be closer than it is. Because of this, it’s often used to grab folks’ attentions, as with red traffic lights or red tag sales. It’s a great color to help draw attention to a single element on a page.
Known to raise blood pressure and stimulate both the pulse rate and appetite, red is used a lot in food industry branding (think Campbell’s Soup, McDonalds, Coca Cola, and KFC).
Athletes wearing red have a higher chance of winning over athletes wearing other colors. It makes them feel more aggressive and powerful and boosts testosterone.
Because red triggers strong physical responses, it can be alarming and overwhelming. It can even leave a person feeling stressed out when overused.
In Western culture, PINK is lovely and feminine; in Japan, however, it's associated with male energy. It's a tint (a color created by adding white) of the color red and is soothing rather than stimulating. While red represents passion, pink suggests tenderness, intimacy, nurturing, safety and vulnerability. If overused, it can cause feelings of weakness.
Pink is often interpreted to mean childhood sweetness and innocence, but it can also be perceived as naïve or silly.
Optimism is also associated with pink. You know the phrase, “seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses”? Pink represents hope but can go further to suggest that someone isn’t seeing all of reality, including the negative aspects.
Bright and vibrant pink suggests confidence and energy and has a bold and modern feel. Pink is also considered to be a light-hearted color, but too much pink can be physically draining and a bit emasculating. It can also be associated with shallowness or being overly “ girly.”
PURPLE has royalty and luxury written all over it! It’s commonly associated with nobility, extravagance, fantasy, mystery and sophistication. Its strong association with nobility is due to the fact that it was originally an expensive dye that only royalty could afford.
Purple is made when red and blue are mixed, and it combines the energy and stability of the two colors.
It’s also associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, authenticity and truth. Too much purple can bring about excessive introspection, and the wrong purple can communicate that something is cheap and nasty real quick.
Of the two, purple is my favorite color! I use it in my branding as one of my secondary colors and for variety in my social media and blog posting. I also wanted to round out my palette, which already had down-to-earth brown, energetic red(ish), trustworthy (but a bit icy) blue, and a sunny yellow. I included a purple for all it says about creativity and authenticity, and, you know, because I love it. I chose one with a fair bit of red in it to balance the cool blue and add some warmth.
BLACK is an interesting color. It can be very cool and sophisticated, but it can also be frightening and has strong negative associations. It’s a mixture of all colors and is really an absence of light.
Black strongly symbolizes mystery, secrecy, evil and grieving. It’s a hiding color and can be used to hide feelings, along with other more sinister things.
In movies, villains are often distinguished by the color black, which reinforces its connection with evil. It’s also linked to power, strength and discipline and can be very intimidating. If you’re trying to communicate oppression, coldness or menace, black is an excellent choice!
On the flip side, it communicates sophistication, excellence, prestige, elegance, and authority. It also adds a sense of weight and seriousness, and works well with white.
If you’re going for sophistication and glamour, black is your gal, and really, it can be absolutely beautiful when used in visual branding. I do recommend that you use it with caution though!
WHITE is pristine and pure. While black is total absorption of color, white is total reflection. It can be a strain to look at, but generally it has positive connotations. It can be interpreted to mean beginnings, faith, purity, perfection, light, goodness and innocence. Think about how you feel with a clean, white piece of paper with no marks on it on your desk. It opens the mind to create freely!
White says cleanliness, order and hygiene. Visually, it can look spacious and larger than it is. It brings calm, comfort and hope and can act like a medicine to soothe the soul. It offers order and meaning and is the source of pure energy.
Too much white can feel empty and isolated, sober and clinical. White mixed with warm colors can be tricky as it can make them look and feel garish.
Brown is the color of coffee. Coffee! Brown is the color of the beautiful, life-giving dirt that would surely grow loads of gorgeous, sustaining vegetables if I actually planted something in it. Brown is the color of my dad’s work boots. Brown Eyed Girl was my favorite song in college, and brown is the color of my daughters’ hair, and what is more beautiful than that? Brown is absolutely and thoroughly about being down to earth, and as a mountain girl at heart, it speaks directly to my soul.
The color brown says nature and utility. Sometimes I think brown has a deep voice and a beard, and I’m pretty sure he’s wearing flannel! But I’m not entirely sure about that, because, to me, there’s something feminine and soft about brown, too.
Brown’s made up of red and yellow with a lot of black mixed in. Like black, it’s quite serious, but the red and yellow make it warmer and softer than. It’s viewed as a solid and reliable color and makes people feel supported. It suggests strength and solidarity, comfort, earthiness, maturity and reliability.
It can make people feel either reassured and comforted or suffocated. For some, it feels dirty.
Brown is associated with gathering material possessions, which suggests security, safety, comfort and home. It also implies endurance, duty and stability and is closely associated with the outdoors, the practical and down-to-earth and the family. It appeals more to men than women
It’s considered a simple, warm and neutral color, making it an excellent choice for law firms, construction companies, and, of course, anything involving outdoor activities and farming. Lighter versions of brown work well as neutral backgrounds. Light brown also adds a sense of neatness, openness, approachability and friendliness. Dark brown can work well for sophisticated and professional men’s products, especially when combined with gold or cream.
Brown’s negative associations include lack of humor and sophistication, dullness, weightiness and dirtiness.
I chose brown as one of my brand colors because it reminds me of the rocks, soil and mountains around me and because I’m a pretty earthy gal. I love rich browns that have a tinge of purple to them over very yellow/orange browns. I love the way the brown in my color palette looks with the light blue I’m using.
I used two taupe-ish (one a lighter tint of the other) browns for the branding of an interior designer who focuses on sustainability. Combined with a beautiful teal color, it’s sophisticated AND down-to-earth. You can check it out here.
Last but not least, we come to grey. While grey can communicate balance and neutrality, pure grey is a virtual absence of color, which can be rather depressing. When it’s dreary and grey outside, we instinctively want to hibernate. Used too heavily, grey can indicate a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.
See below for a cheat sheet of these colors and their meanings.
Gender and Color
It's worth noting, that research suggests that shades of colors (colors with black added) and bold colors are apparently more popular with men than women. Women, on the other hand, supposedly respond better to tints of colors (colors with white added).
To be honest, I struggle a bit with these generalizations based on gender, but there are an awful lot of creative entrepreneurs that are targeting women using soft, subtle colors for their branding. Many of them are quite successful, so it can’t be all wrong.
For very large brands that are looking to appeal to large groups of people, it's important to take personal preference out of the branding process altogether. For those of us with small businesses that are partially an expression of ourselves, I think that personal preference should be considered.
For example, I prefer strong colors that have impact. I want to work with women, but I’m not terribly girly, and I’d love to work with men, too. It makes sense then that I would avoid a color palette that leans toward the pastel side of the color spectrum.
One Last Note
Once again, the symbolism and meanings attached to the colors I've listed above are all generalizations and are not to be taken as hard and fast universal truths. Also, there are many, many different versions of all of these colors that can change what they communicate and how they are perceived. I'll explore that in another post.
Clearly, there’s a lot to think about when selecting colors for your brand, but it’s truly one of my favorite parts of the process. While color selection should be taken seriously, it’s also a ton of fun!