Posted: Wed 21st Jul 2021
There are few things in design more subjective than colour. It can evoke one reaction in one person and the opposite in another due to culture, association, or just personal preference.
Each colour conveys a meaning that will consciously or subconsciously impact the way your customers perceive your brand. Your brand colours can work for or against the brand identity you are trying to create and the values your brand stands for. So getting your colour palette right is essential.
Creating your colour palette can be intimidating. It does not need to be complicated, but it is easy to get wrong. Many online tools can help, but in my opinion, there is nothing that can replicate the eye and experience of an expert to get it right. In the same way that you can use logo generators, but you're unlikely to get something as good as when you use an expert.
In this blog, I will cover the psychology of colour, picking the colour palette right for your brand. And finally, I’ll guide you through the designers terminology when using colour - so you can sound like an expert.
If you’d like some help with this or any other part of your branding and marketing, please do drop me a message.
Colour has a strong psychological effect on humans and evokes emotions that will impact the perception of your brand. For example, red is the colour of both fire and blood. It is often associated with energy, war, danger, strength, and power. It is also a cue for passion, desire, and love.
Shades of colours also mean very different things: neutral green symbolises nature, growth and harmony; olive green is seen as a colour of peace, whereas dark green is commonly associated with money, wealth or even greed.
Using knowledge of colour psychology is essential when you come to create your colour palette. Even at an elementary level, understanding what colours mean will help you choose your brand’s colours.
See this PDF to see what some of the emotions each colour is associated with. Alongside a robust set of brand values, this chart is a great starting point to help you choose the colours to include in your palette choices.
We follow a simple process that you can replicate:
Understand your brand values; what you want your brand to stand for. We have a foundations workshop that our clients use to do this. As a starting point, you can use this Psychology of Colour PDF.
Look at the market you operate in and assess what colours other brands are using to give you a guide to the category cues. For example, the healthcare sector often uses lighter shades of blue, which signify health, healing, tranquillity, understanding. They also use aqua greens that are associated with emotional healing and protection.
Think about what colours are most likely to appeal to your customers and why. Purple is often regarded as a good choice for feminine design, and orange is seen as a good choice for younger consumers.
Use online colour palette creators to start you on your process.
Refine, test, and tweak.
To get started, here are some resources you can use to create colour palettes quickly and affordably. I like Adobe's Colour Wheel. You can input your lead colour, and the system will choose the most logical versions for any colour palette technique you want to use (i.e., monochromatic, complementary, etc.).
As this system and all other online programmes use artificial intelligence to generate the palette, it won't be perfect. They don't use an actual human eye, and they do not know you, your brand values or your customers.
Secondly, be aware that these will look very different depending on the quality of your screen. We work with clients all the time who have relatively low-quality laptop screens, and the colours look completely different! Be sure to test your colours in the environment they are going to be used. You'd never redecorate your home without trying out a few tester pots on the walls first.
Once you have worked out your values, cues, and lead colours, you can start to play. Let us begin with a fully custom palette; using traditional colour schemes. Below is a Monochromatic scheme, which can work well as a standalone colour palette. I have added light grey as a complimentary neutral colour:
I am using a split-complementary colour scheme in the below version, and I've used yellow (which is complementary to purple) and muted red and grey.
Your colour palette will grow and evolve as you add more colours. Here, I have got rid of the purple and yellow and instead kept the muted red and added in some blues. It is a cleaner, more modern palette.
As you can see from the colour palettes above, playing with tints, tones, and shades in your colour schemes is vital. Using "straight off the colour wheel" colours will lead to a colour scheme that can either be overwhelming if you have gone for a bold approach or boring if you have played it safe.
We have seen both ends of this spectrum; clients have shown us monochromatic palettes that look great on a brand document but very tricky to bring to life, particularly on their website. We have had others that presented us with a version of Joseph's Technicolour Dreamcoat where nothing was off-limits, and we had to strip out over half of the colours!
The next thing you can do is add some natural colours, which are another great way of creating a personalised colour palette. Grey, black, white, brown, tan, and off-white are generally considered neutral colours. Browns, tans, and off-whites tend to make colour schemes feel warmer (they are all tones, shades, and tints of orange and yellow). Grey will take on a warm or cool impression depending on surrounding colours. Black and white can also look either warm or cool depending on the surrounding colours.
Black and white are the simplest and most common neutrals to add to colour schemes. To add more visual interest, you can use very light or very dark shades of grey in place of white or black to ensure a modern look.
Too few colours can make your brand identity boring. It could leave you short on areas like accent colours. Accent colours are helping when leading customers on predefined journeys on websites and give you options to highlight different products and offers.
Too many will make your brand identity overwhelming and challenging to keep track of. As a rule of thumb, five is a good starting point. If you then add neutrals separately, you have a good depth to your palette.
I think these five websites demonstrate fantastic colours. Some of the palettes below might look a bit strange at first glance, but seeing how they are used shows the possibilities playing with your colour palette can present.
There are predefined colour scheme standard approaches that exist and are often the basis for starting the process of finding your colour palette. Below are the traditional schemes, with examples.
Monochromatic colour schemes use different tones, shades and tints within a specific hue. These schemes are easy to create and can look very stylish if you get them right. However, they can look dull and flat if you get it wrong. I recommend starting with an intense hue and adding a solid neutral like white or black to keep it visually interesting.
Analogous schemes use three colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. Traditionally, analogous colour schemes all have similar purity levels, but you can make them bespoke to your brand needs by using tones, shades, and tints. This palette style looks energetic and consistent, and the danger is they can appear disjointed.
Complementary schemes are created by combining colours from opposite sides of the colour wheel. Using colours that are exact opposites is a high impact and unique approach but can be visually jarring. The colours can even appear to vibrate along their borders in some uses. To get around this, I recommend leaving negative space or adding transitional colours between them). I recommend only going for this approach yourself if you are an expert.
Split complementary schemes add more complexity than traditional, complementary schemes. In this scheme, instead of using colours that are opposites, you use colours on either side of the hue opposite your base hue. This style can create intriguing palettes in a more straightforward way.
Triadic schemes are made up of hues equally spaced around the 12-spoke colour wheel. This is one of the more diverse colour schemes. When done well, they add a lot of visual interest to a design and make your brand's identity look stylish, professional and modern.
Custom colour schemes are the hardest to create. Instead of following the predefined colour schemes discussed above, a custom scheme does not have formal rules. To get this right, you need to keep things like clarity, lightness, and strength of the colours you use in mind. Unless you are an expert, this is a bold approach for your colour palette.
If you need any help creating your colour palette, logos, fonts or brand identity, get in touch with me for a discovery call.