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Understanding What Colors Mean & Communicate

Color is an incredible thing. They have the ability to invoke feelings, set moods, increase appetite or even communicate trust. With so much communication going on through color we should make sure it lines up with our brand message.


1. Base Color Communication:

Red: It’s confident, exciting and gets people’s attention. It’s been shown to be able to raise heart rate and even increase appetite. 
Pink: Calming, fun, or feminine. You sometimes see waiting rooms incorporating pink into their decor.
Orange: It’s youthful, energetic and communicates motion. Shares some of the boldness of of red and the cheerfulness of yellow.
Yellow: It’s bright, happy & exciting. Brands that are fun and on the go, do well to incorporate yellow.
Purple: Royalty or creative. This is not an overused color as some others but be careful, sometimes certain shades can be off-putting for customers.
Brown: Earthy, Rugged or masculine. Often coffee shops have an earthy vibe by incorporating browns on a dark color palette.
Green: Peaceful, Blessing (in some cultures), and growth. Many nature brands use this to their advantage.
Blue: Loyal, Trustworthy and deep. Many banks, financial institution and medical companies incorporate blue in their branding.
Black: Strong, Dark and can be Elegant. Depending on its surrounding elements it can communicate luxury or youthful rebellion.
White: Clean, Light and Professional.

Remember these are guidelines and guidelines only go so far in the world of design.


2. Color Adjustments:

You start adding shades, hues, soft pastels or vibrant neons and your communication in color will change dramatically. Also the amount of color represented through primary colors verses accent colors will change the feeling of the overall brand. Not to mention the accompanying photography.

i. Using Different Shades:

If the middle red, from the example above, was your base color you could add different shades by adjusting the lightness. If you want to have just one color in your brand, this is a great way to add more dimension. This gives you options when you are using it on logos, or texts with different backgrounds (light vs dark).

ii. Playing With Saturation:

This is how much of a color is represented. High saturation gets you more towards neons while low saturation get soft and towards the gray spectrum. As you can tell the far left seems bold and catchy, while the ones on the right are muted. Although bright and bold sounds like a good choice for marketing, if you have a brand that is more nonchalant and less in your face, you may want to consider muting the color palette by adjusting its saturation.

iii. Looking at Different Hues:

This is where you’ll start seeing completely different colors. Using different hues is a great way to find colors that will play nicely together. These will be the same saturation and lightness just in a different color.

3. Color Harmonies

More than just hues, there are different ways colors can harmonize together. These are four basic color harmonies, but there are more than just these.

i. Complementary

Complementary colors are those on opposites of the color wheel. These offer a bold set of colors that stand out. You’ll see it used quite often i.e. the Lakers Basketball team in their purple and yellow, or Christmas in its green and red. But you should be careful because using too much of it will end up looking like a tacky Christmas sweater…and I’m not talking about the it’s-so-tacky-it-looks-good Christmas sweater.

ii. Analogous

These are sets of three grouped colors on the color wheel. These colors blend nicely together and are generally peaceful. The middle color is generally a dominant color and the two others share a part of it. Many health products & nature brands use analogous color schemes. 

iii. Triadic

Triadic color schemes are evenly placed apart and due to their distance provide a vibrant contrast with one another. These create bold color palettes and are often used in bold brands that have a lot of branches but want a unified voice. 

iv. Tetradic

These involve four colors and they make a lot tension in its use. When used well they can make a bold and playful color scheme. It can communicate equality and togetherness since it harmonizes so many colors. It can be hard to nail down for brand recognition since there isn’t one clear dominant color but then again Google doesn’t seem to be struggling.


This is just four basic color harmony examples but there are more.


Have you put together a color scheme? I’d love to know in the comments what tools or approaches you have found helpful?

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