Fresh eyes

The meaning of colour in branding

the meaning of colour in branding
Samit Nayi Freshfield Head of Design headshot

Written by Samit Nayi,
Lead Designer at Freshfield

Designers, account managers and clients are often at loggerheads over colours. Colour is quite an emotive subject, but it’s important that businesses take a strategic view towards colour. The business colours you choose to represent your company can say a lot about you. Are you confident that the ones you use are the most appropriate?

Colour enhances the visual appearance of any document. It’s particularly important in your customer-oriented materials, since it adds impact to promotional items and presentations, enhances the realism of pictures, and gives a more professional appearance to your business stationery. Colour adds appeal and attracts attention.

Politicians and political parties change their image on the advice of colour consultants, for example The Conservative Party’s change from blue and red torch to blue and green tree. The fashion industry predicts seasonal colour trends years in advance and, in industry, brand managers shell out serious money for the advice of colour psychologists. Marks & Spencer’s change from dark green and gold to bright green and black was not a radical change, but one which revitalised the Marks and Spencer brand.

Colour changes can also be a potential PR disaster too though. Think about Gap’s proposed change of brand colours from white letters on blue background, to black letters on white background with a small blue cube above the letter ‘p’. The plans were shelved after an outcry by critics on social networks. The conspiracy theorist will say this was all a Gap PR stunt, but a good example of how a colour rebrand can be disastrous.

Choice of colour isn’t just about personal preference. There are some business colours that are rather obviously associated with particular industries – blue for water companies and green for environmental agencies, for example. One question to consider is how you balance up the need to be associated with a particular industry or to look very different from your competitors – and in doing so perhaps sacrifice an obvious link to your products and services.

Colour can also be used to convey specific meaning such as warning (red), caution (yellow), safety (green), etc. There are international standards on the assignment of colours to meaning:

  • Red: danger
  • Orange: warning
  • Yellow: caution
  • Blue: notice
  • Green: safety

However, these associations of colour and meaning may be culture specific and should be used with care. Various sources have suggested other standard meanings signalled by colour:

  • Red: urgency, passion, heat, love, blood
  • Purple: wealth, royalty, sophistication, intelligence
  • Blue: truth, dignity, power, coolness, melancholy, heaviness
  • Black: death, rebellion, strength, evil
  • White: purity, cleanliness, lightness, emptiness
  • Yellow: warmth, cowardice, brightness
  • Green: nature, health, cheerfulness, environment, money, vegetation

Ultimately, your choice of corporate colours will be influenced by your company’s goals, philosophy and the image you want to portray. When designing, you should not use colour without a specific plan or goal.

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