Understanding & Using Color in Branding


How are you feeling right now? What are you thinking? Are you suddenly excited and passionate, yearning for adventure? Or did a Zen-like calmness just pervade your being? Maybe your mind is on money. Or, if not that, you’re considering your health and how you can live in harmony with the natural world. On the contrary, you say? You were simply entertaining thoughts of fun, youth, and celebration, but now, for some strange reason, are more focused on fantasies of royalty and luxury? Fantasies that are quickly dispelled by new thoughts of an earthy, tribal simplicity? So just what’s going on here?! And why am I suddenly feeling so curious and amused, but annoyed by eye-strain?!

color theory graphic design

Effects of Color on the Mind

Let us fade back to black for its capacity to imbue some seriousness to a hue. What the above examples represent are the psychology of color and the well-established fact that, while there is definitely an element of subjectivity here, most of us associate certain emotions with certain shades in ways that can be measured and manipulated. It’s not a new insight.

In fact, using colors to alter our psychological and physical states is an old practice – a very old practice. Both ancient Egypt and China employed chromotherapy, a treatment in which the patient was placed in a brightly colored room depending upon the “doctor’s” diagnosis.

Got a patient who needs better circulation? Put her in the red room. Got someone who needs to purify his body? He’ll go in the yellow room, thank you. Got a guy that needs to heal his lungs and increase his energy levels? To the orange room with him, please. (Chromotherapy sounds primitive to us 21st century types, but, personally, I’d take it over leeches and a mercury-laced tincture any day.)

The Role of Color in Web Design

Not surprisingly, the psychological effects of color play a big role in web design, and the color scheme you choose can also have an effect on the hosting plan you choose. After all, a user’s first impression of a website is almost always a visual one. And, whether fair or not, a user will often judge a site not by the content of its characters but by the colors of its screens. Therefore, with a gazillion and one other websites that a visitor could be viewing instead, getting the color scheme right – and keeping that viewer’s interest – is crucial.

This is particularly true for online retailers who, unlike their brick-and-mortar counterparts, cannot stimulate their customers’ senses across the spectrum by having soothing music coming from unseen speakers, soft fabrics hanging from closely packed racks, and a cutie hawking perfume behind the makeup counter. Instead, an online retailer has two main ways to set the mood for his or her virtual store: the words and the colors.

As for the former, keep them short and simple and, for the love of God, use spell check. As for the latter, particularly for those who don’t know their warm colors from their cool ones, there are some very helpful sites on the web ready to come to the aid of the color-scheme challenged.

Tips For Using Color on Your Site

The key is to remember that, while we rightfully strive to be a color-blind society in the real world, color still very much counts in the virtual one. So, with that said, here are some helpful tips.

The first and most important – other than never using red and green together at any time other than Christmas – is to remember the needs of your target audience. If, say, you’re a medical supply retailer selling devices for fecal management in colostomy patients – and I happen to know someone who really is, by the way – then you don’t want a website with lots of light and dark browns, despite their overtones of tribal earthiness. (The retailer’s website is a very sober and professional-looking light grey and blue background with a dark green font.)

graphic design color theory branding

The two main rules of thumb are connotations and common sense. For example, if an online retailer wants to sell sailboats, try a white and light blue background with a deep, sea blue font. If you want to sell herbs from your organic garden, try a dawn’s-early-light-peach for a background and dark green for a font. Along the borders, you could splash some bright purples, yellows and oranges to represent the many marigolds you plant to keep those pesky aphids away.

If someone wishes to advertise his or her no nonsense business, say an accountant for example, then business suit blue and grey on the borders with black text over a white background could be used. It’s visually boring, yes, but black on white is also the easiest to read and is a scheme that has a no-funny-business sincerity.

As for common sense – apart from not using lots of browns if you’re selling colostomy supplies – make sure to avoid color schemes that will cause eye-strain. For example, try reading this. It’s not fun, is it?

A website that uses hard-to-read color combinations will not only look like it was designed by your ten-year-old, but will drive away potential customers concerned about their vision. If you’re an online retailer, here’s a little mnemonic for you: If it’s hard to read, your patrons will flee.

In conclusion, a successful online retailer not only offers a good product at a competitive price, sending it out quickly to a satisfied customer, but the successful online retailer also has something of an artist’s eye, an awareness of humans’ conditioning to colors and the power of hues to affect our moods and, by extension, what we buy.

Your Turn!

Need help using colors more effectively in your next design project? Try this color wheel by our friends over at Canva. This is a great resource to help you use color combinations with ease. The resource also speaks more about the topic of color theory. Thanks, Canva!