Part 2: In this second installment of our our crash course in picking the best logo colors, we take a look at the psychology of color, what colors mean and how to build your brand around the right one.
It’s been a while coming, but this is a follow-up post to our crash course in color theory as it applies to logos and the design of same. If you haven’t read that post, probably worthwhile for you to do now – we’ll wait. We’re going to take a look at the most popular logo colors with some of the biggest brands in the world, then go over some basic color psychology as it applies to the entire shooting match. Here’s the pertinent stats:Some things we can pull from the chart – the most popular color to use in a corporate brand is blue (though that does encompass a lot of shades & tones) while the least popular is purple (ironically, our logo color back until just recently.) Just about half of the biggest brands in the world are monochrome logos (one color only) while only 19% opted for a full color treatment. Interesting stuff to be sure, but what does it all mean? Let’s take a look at what we’ve come to accept as conventional wisdom on colors and how they’re supposed to effect people – the psychology of color. We’ll also set up color pairs for each, based on the wheels we covered in part one (keep in mind these aren’t the only potential color combinations, but pairs set up according to established color theory.)
In terms of usage in major brand logos, blue comes in at number one with a bullet. There’s a reason for that – the color is supposed to illicit a feeling of trustworthiness, as well as being conservative, staid and dependable. It’s also supposed to represent honesty, calmness and security so it’s little wonder blue shows up in the logos of banks, financial institutions and a lot of software companies. Police forces use this color a lot too, so much so they’re often referred to as “The Boys in Blue.” On the color wheel, blue’s complimentary pairing is with orange and also works nicely with a golden yellow (from the orange family) but can also stand alone in a monochrome design.
Speaking of monochromatic logos, in what came as a surprise to me, black logos come in at number two in terms of popularity with major brands. Black is a very serious color and is often deployed by brands that want to portray themselves as sophisticated and luxurious or to impart an air of formality, style, and elegance (all translating to expensive.) Black is also a very authoritative color (check our logo, top left. Now you know why that is.) Also worth pointing out that most logos are actually designed in black & white first – colors added later – in order to nail down the strength of the design. A powerful logo works in black, while a design that’s “held together” by color is much weaker.
Red is a somewhat unique color in that it works very nicely on white and black backgrounds. Red is the color of passion and love (think Valentine’s Day.) It’s considered a very bold, exciting color and meant to draw attention to itself (that’s why it’s on stop signs) bordering on aggressive. Red is often used as a call to action or a highlight due to its attention drawing properties. On the color wheel, red’s paired up with green (think Christmas) but this isn’t typically used in logos as the colors tend to “vibrate” visually when in close proximity. Pinks (which are actually tints of red) are generally considered feminine colors.
Yellow in a logo is supposed to represent a company that is logical. Optimistic. Progressive, confident, playful and creative. Trouble is, yellow as a logo color can be problematic as it’s generally too bright to stand on its own and will require a secondary, darker color to stand out. Probably a keyline (that’s an outline for the uninitiated) or a darker box that the yellow portion can sit inside. Some logos use a shaded yellow – along the lines of mustard – to get around this, but be careful that your yellow doesn’t become too “muddy.”
Orange is generally thought to illicit feelings of happiness, friendliness and enthusiasm. In terms of color psychology orange is supposed to represent entities that are sociable, affordable and sunny (the color is also supposed to stimulate appetites so it’s little wonder it finds its way into many food products and drinks.) Orange is also used in some warning labels and often used in “call to action” banners and buttons.
We’re seeing more and more green logos as many companies and brands try to portray themselves as environmentally friendly. That’s not surprising considering green is the universal color of nature (as well as the nomenclature of being respectful of same.) Many supermarkets use green as a brand color, either in their logos or complimentary branding as color is also thought to represent fresh, life and harmony. It also denotes growth (hence its use as a branding component of some banks) and being new (the word “green” as in “green behind the ears” also metaphorically describes new or inexperienced.) Green is also thought to be a calming color.
Multi-colored or full color logos.
Multi-colored logos are a relatively new phenomenon, spurred on by the Internet (where the number of colors has no impact on reproduction cost) as well as full color printing that costs a fraction of what it once did (as opposed to its then economical spot color printing and two color logos.) What rainbow colors are thought to mean: Fun. Easy-going. Child-like. Internet. Multi-disciplinary.
A little bit of history on the color purple is in order to understand how it’s thought to represent royalty, majesty pomp and ceremony. It used to be the most expensive color to print (or dye) anything with because the only source of purple inks and dyes was in hard-to-find seaweed. That cost a lot of money and the color has been associated with richness ever since. The downsize to this is that the color is also viewed by many as “elitest.” Purple’s complimentary pair is orange – the newly announced really, really official colors of FedEx.
Now that we understand what colors are supposed to mean, we can bring everything full circle by using the color theories we learned in part one of this series. Using our color wheel and the various types of color combinations, we can begin to pair our main color with a secondary one. Here’s some potential pairs using complementary, split-complementary and triadic color schemes.
Keep in mind these aren’t the only color combinations available (or the only type of color pairings) but this gives you a solid footing on how to quickly pick logo colors for most projects & brand developments. Shameless plug department – this series is part of our upcoming Power Colors release. Look for that announcement in a little bit.
The graphics and charts used in this post are a preview of our upcoming release Power Colors – The Science Of Brand Colors and are copyright The Logo Factory Inc. All rights reserved.