The Meaning of Colour
What associations certain colours have, and when you should use them
All colours have associations with emotions – conjuring feelings within us, whether we are consciously aware of them or not. These associations are not rigid rules, but being mindful of them can help in choosing an appropriate colour scheme when it comes to creating a brand identity.
It is important to remember, though, that colours alone will not be the sole way your logo has impact. It is how your selection of colours interacts – and forms a relationship – with the type and shapes they are used within, that determines how much strength and memorability it will have. As Piet Mondrian once wrote:
“Everything is expressed through relationship. Colour can exist only through other colours, dimension through other dimensions, position through other positions that oppose them. That is why I regard relationship as the principal thing.”
Bearing this in mind, below is a list of colours and their associations. Use them to accent and underline your branding message – but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to follow the norm on every occasion. Often a challenger / rebel brand chooses a colour palette that is almost the polar opposite of what people expect. It’s all down to the brand values you want to manipulate them to convey.
Red: passion, energy, excitement, power, ambition, danger, aggression, immediacy, anger, hunger. It has been found to stimulate appetite, which is why it is used in so many restaurants and food product logos. Choosing red for your logo can make it feel more dynamic and attention-grabbing; but bright and bold colours can also appear brash.
Pink: caring, love, calm, emotional, sensitive, nurture. It is fun , confident and flirty – but its associations with femininity means it is often avoided for products not specifically targeted at women.
Yellow: intelligence, joy, cheerfulness, attention, freshness and energy. It should be used with care, though, as it does have some negative connotations – including its signifying of cowardice, danger in nature and its use in warning signs. However it is sunny, warm and friendly and is another colour that is believed to stimulate appetite.
Green: soothing, organic, envy, fertility, balance. Green is commonly used when a company wishes to emphasise their natural and ethical credentials. Other connotations include growth and freshness, and it is growing in popularity with financial products too.
Orange: instinct, optimism, warmth, happiness, attraction, wealth, thirst, innovation and modern thinking. It also carries connotations of youth, affordability, sociability and approachability.
Purple: creativity, wealth, fantasy, nobility, luxury, arrogance, sadness. It has long been associated with the church, implying wisdom and dignity, and throughout history it has been the colour of wealth and riches. Tyrian purple (also known as imperial purple or imperial dye) was used to line the togas of emperors – and is a reddish-purple natural dye. It is a secretion produced by several species of predatory sea snails. In ancient times, extracting this dye involved tens of thousands of snails and substantial labor, and as a result, the dye was highly valued.
Blue: stability, trust, tranquility, intelligence, spirituality, control. It is one of the most widely used colours in corporate logos. It implies professionalism, serious mindedness, integrity, sincerity and calm. Blue is also associated with authority and success, and for this reason is popular with both financial institutions and government bodies.
Indigo: loyalty, trust, confidence, peace and success.
Dark Grey: security, intelligence, solidity, calm, composure. Bear in mind that muted tones convey a more sophisticated image, but run the risk of being overlooked.
Light Grey: glamour, high-tech, grace, strength, sophistication.
Gold: richness, warmth, tradition, opulence, triumph.
Brown: nature, relaxation, structure, support, comfort. It has masculine connotations and is often used for products associated with rural life and the outdoors.
Black: strength, power, elegance, bold, sleek, drama, mystery, sophistication. It is a complicated colour because on the one hand it implies power and sophistication, but on the other hand it is associated with villainy, darkness and death. Remember, you will always need to create a ‘mono’ (or black) version of any logo as part of a brand identity package.
White: balance, wholeness, innocence, purity, freshness. It is generally associated with cleanliness, simplicity and naiveté. In practical terms, a white logo will always need to stand in a coloured field to make it show up on a white background.