Graphic Design Roundup #46: Color Considerations in Logo Design and Branding

Posted on September 8, 2011 in Art & Graphic Design, Graphic Design

Colors add interest to everything we see. And, when used strategically, color can be an essential component in the design of a logo and the success of a brand. That’s why so many factors must be taken into consideration when selecting the colors for a logo or a brand.

First, it’s best to aim for a single color. A goal of any brand should be to “own” a single color. It’s true that a primary color can be teamed up with a complementary color, but one color needs to dominate. Some brands are fortunate to a have a product that has a distinctive color that can set the tone for the logo design.

There are some interesting case studies about companies who own a single color in their identity as opposed to direct competition with multiple colors.

Example:  FedEx vs. UPS    VS.
FedEx (Federal Express) chose the shocking and vibrant orange and purple to really stand out in the dull office mail room. The colors gave significance and importance to the priority overnight shipping that FedEx was so famous for.

When they rebranded to FedEx, they developed an interesting brand system using different colors paired with the purple to delineate sub-brands.
This “color palette” is great for clarifying sub-brands in communication, but it comes at the expenses of the overall parent brand owning a single color. Contrast that strategy with FedEx’s biggest competitor UPS and you’ll find a single, traditionally unattractive color that is completely unique and embraced by the brand. Interestingly, UPS continues to be the market leader producing more revenue and market growth than Fed Ex.

Second, select a color that embodies the emotional spirit of the brand. In our Western Culture, certain colors are perceived with certain qualities. Use of an “emotional color wheel” can help us choose which colors best align with what we want a brand to be known for and associated with.

The wheel helps avoid the subjectivity of personal tastes, especially deeply-rooted college football allegiances. (It is shocking how many color decisions have been made for businesses based on college sports team loyalty.)
When selecting colors, consult the emotional color wheel. It helps keep the design team and the end-user objective while steering the team to colors that will align with core brand attributes.

Third, select a color that is competitive. The UPS brown is quite different than the FedEx Orange and Purple. Similarly, Starbucks chose green.  Why? Because no one else in the category was using it. Dunkin’ Donuts uses orange and pink. Mapping out the competitive color landscape is a useful exercise in identifying any unclaimed territory.

By changing the way you see and think about color, you can create designs that are more effective, more valuable, and readily endorsed by the client.

Mapping the competitions’ use of color helps keep things fresh while guiding a selection that avoids looking like a “copycat.”
Here are some of the major brands divided up in the order of the color spectrum: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Violet. Take time to see if you agree with the color selection and the “spirit” of the brand.  Do you notice if certain colors are dominated by a specific industry? See where your favorite brands fit into the spectrum.


NOTE: When selecting color, think about the emotional impact of your choice upon a specific target audience. Cultures around the world have different associations with color. Make sure that you use one that resonates with the consumers you are communicating with.

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