One of my earliest memories was the way I felt when I opened a brand new packet of Crayola Textas in a ‘Bold’ colourway. The jewel tones of the aqua and raspberry were divine to my six-year old mind, and I can remember spending hours admiring how the colours all went perfectly together. Little did I realise that this was actually my very first colour palette.
Fast forward some 30 years and I’ve managed to parlay my love of Crayolas into a very enjoyable part of how I make my living. Brand-wise, nothing communicates emotion quite like colour can, and it can prompt us to think and feel a range of emotions. For example, when used in marketing and branding, red can ignite passion; blue can help us to trust; green can instil peace and a feeling of restfulness and pink can evoke an invitation to care.
Following on from this, some industries and sectors have become synonymous with certain colours: pink for breast cancer, orange for low-cost or budget services (Jetstar, ING Direct) and blue in financial services (tradition, trust, security).
There’s a science to it
If I think very, very hard, I can remember covering this in my Year 7 art class. It centres around a basic 12-spoke colour wheel and this chart and I have memories of matching orange with blue and marvelling at the way the combination 'popped'. Turns out, this was less about art and more about science. This chart summarises it perfectly:
When used in branding, colours provide invaluable support to your logo, type and imagery. Not every piece of branding can accommodate an image, or even a visible logo (think about the way your web page scrolls down and your logo disappears) which is where a carefully chosen colour palette can step in and continue to speak your brand.
Colour is equal parts practical and beautiful, and we can't ignore beauty in branding and graphic design. Strategy should certainly inform all creative decisions, but I'd like to think that there's a little wiggle room with colour to choose what instinctively 'feels right'. This is possibly why I pay such little attention to the science of it.
Where to start?
Some broad questions which will help form a useful colour palette are:
1. What business are you in?
This is straightforward. What are you selling? Have a think about this on two levels, (1) the actual product and service, and (2) the benefit that the client receives from this. You could be a doctor or dentist, in which case you are selling a service that aids the achievement of health and wellbeing. A financial planner sells a specialised service to help clients achieve financial freedom. An independent consultant such as interior designer can help their clients enjoy their home by recommending a desired look and feel in their choice of furnishings.
How could these two considerations impact your colour scheme? You can think broadly about the emotions you wish to elicit (the chart earlier in this article can be helpful here) but also from a trend-driven perspective. If you're an interior designer, you're going to want to convey that you're savvy with colour schemes and interior trends in order to build trust with your potential clients. Muted, refined tones could work much better than a traditional colour scheme here as they reflect the current trends in interior designs.
2. Who are you selling to?
Who will buy your product? What are their demographics (age, gender, geographical location, socio-economic group etc)? Do these considerations have an impact on the types of colours that would be best received by your audience? Navy blue or forest green may be a good option if you are a financial planner specialising in advice on Self Managed Super Funds to an older clientele, however, a more vibrant palette may resonate more with a younger audience.
3. How is best to communicate with them?
What channels will you be using to communicate with them? Print? Digital? Experiential? (i.e. trade shows, shop fittings, window displays). Although this shouldn't impact the decision making around your palette too much, it's good to consider if there may be any difficulties rendering certain colour combinations. Accessibility is also a consideration if your audience is likely to experience any sort of vision impairment (i.e. older demographics, or those with disabilities).
4. Where will you be using your colour palette?
Are there any key tasks that you need your colour palette to be able to handle? For instance, does your branding need to communicate lots of graphs and diagrams? Sometimes graphs need heaps of colours to differentiate different data groups; and it pays to make sure that your palette can handle these.
Will you be executing your brand through large print runs? If so, offset printing can be more cost effective and give you greater control over colour output, and it will be useful to define some PMS (Pantone Matching System) codes to them.
Will you be using specific software programs more than others? Microsoft PowerPoint has a very good tool where you can create theme colours. You can then save this theme and import into other Microsoft programs and keep all of your branding watertight:
Ok, so how do I choose a colour palette?
With some basic strategy in place, it's now time for the fun part! The best way to start out 'shopping' for a colour palette is by gathering inspiration. Keep an eye out for brands and colours that appeal to you and make a note. Pinterest is a fantastic place to start looking for these sorts of images. I recommend setting up a dedicated Board for your branding and save all of your inspiration there to come back to.
Amadeus Brand has a Board where I keep all of my inspiration and handy colour tools, feel free to check it out and follow the board and I can share any great images and schemes that I come across.
When you've gathered some inspiration, it's time to narrow down some colour themes. Adobe Colour CC is fantastic tool to work out colour schemes. You can import a picture and it will work out the most appropriate colour schemes based on what your preferences (dark, bright, muted etc):
It does a great job of selecting a five-colour palette, however, I often choose seven colours for a palette with a bit more flexibility.
The following guide is a good rule-of-thumb:
You may find that you need to play around with a few images and trial palettes before you land on the best one. Have a go at applying the palette to some of your colateral to see if it is a good fit. The Microsoft Office suite is a good place to start as it will apply your colours to all of it's formatting and you can see immediately if it works (PowerPoint is particularly good for this as it will automatically apply it to all SmartArt and diagrams).
Template, template, template
Once you have landed on your palette, it's time to set that baby in stone! Head to the Adobe Colour CC website to define their colour values. At a minimum you'll need either RGB values, or HEX codes if the bulk of your branding will be online or digital. What are these? RGB stands for Red/Green/Blue and indicates the breakdowns of each respective colour unit. HEX codes are a slightly easier code used in web design, although lots of other software programs such as Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft have also started to allow HEX code definitions. The code is made up of letters and numbers which combine to provide a unique code that you can cut and paste without having to enter specific values. If you're planning to use print in your branding (and let's face it, who doesn't need a business card?) you'll also need to define CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) values for your palette, as printers use CMYK values. It's a good idea to collate all of this information in one place for future reference:
And finally, consistency is King
Like everything in branding - be consistent! Take the time to define a palette you are really happy with, and use it. Again and again and again and again and again. It's the best way to build a strong and resonant brand, and together with your logo and other branding elements, will help build a really strong brand that helps you kick your business goals.
Do you have a colour palette for your business? How did you go about choosing it? I'd love to hear how it's going in the comments!