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The Colorful World of Color Palette Design

color palette

Written by Aimee Viall

September 3, 2019

How does a designer really go about choosing a color palette for their brand? How do we as designers explain that there really is strategic thinking behind our decisions and that it’s not just personal preference or subconscious decision?

I will start by saying that a bit of choosing brand colors is preference and/or may be influenced by what we see—in pop culture, in home décor, and at our favorite stores. And this is truly not a bad thing. Research estimates that up to 85% of consumers believe color is the biggest motivator when choosing a particular product, while an estimated 92% acknowledge visual appearance is the most persuasive marketing factor.

We really should recognize that even in B2B markets, brand colors must resonate with our audience. these colors will help tell the brand story across multiple mediums.

Here are five axioms designers keep in mind when recommending color palettes for a brand.

  1. Know your audience.

Just like with messaging, your audience is key. You may love burnt orange and black, but if your audience includes women’s professional clothing stores or retirement communities, those two colors may not make the right connection.

Compile a brief profile of your intended audience—this may be a broad group or narrow niche. Do a little research on what currently appeals to that demographic and how other brands are marketing to these people. Having a clear picture of who your target audience is and how you want them to feel will help you focus in on the most impressive and influential brand colors.

  1. Evaluate the competition.

Designers should compile research and analyze the brands of other companies in your industry—including logos, websites, color schemes, and other customer touch points available. If you choose the same colors as your immediate competitors, your brand may get lost in a field of sameness. You want a color palette that is memorable so that you can compete and stand out. And unless shock appeal is part of your brand story, you probably don’t want to come across as that bright purple and orange house that everyone cringes at as they drive by. Finding the right balance when choosing brand colors is a crucial part of the designer’s strategy.

  1. Think psychologically, but then think again.

Have you noticed the number of tech companies who have blue logos? Facebook, LinkedIn, IBM, HP, and Intel have definite brand recognition, and they all use this passive color to convey trust, freedom, intelligence and progress. Understanding the psychology of color does help a designer narrow the field of choices for a color palette. But, there is a lot more thought that should go into this than just choosing a brand color for the feeling it should evoke in your customers. Designers have a myriad color facets to play with to bring your brand to life like using several colors together to change the mood, playing with high or low contrast, saturation, monochromatic schemes, and all the various tints, tones and shades.

  1. Consider experimenting.

When working on a branding project for a client, we will often put together two or three brand boards featuring the separate look and feels and unique color palettes. Consider sharing several color palettes with key stakeholders, customers and prospects before making a decision. While internally, you may love one option, option two or three may be more relevant or have greater impact on your customers.

  1. Keep it simple.

This phrase is used over and over in every area of life; but while we hear it at every turn, it amazes me how often I need reminding. Many designers recommend using a 60-30-10 rule, which basically means choosing a palette of three colors and using them in a ratio of 60%, 30%, and 10%. This is a great starting place, especially when one or more of these three colors appearing your logo.

Another way to assign hierarchy is by assembling a primary and secondary palette of a small group of colors and applying an 80:20 ratio—with the primary palette being used 80% of the time and the secondary palette supporting 20% of the time.

Choosing your brand colors is ultimately in the hands of you and your designer. Whether you run with a single color or a full palette, having the rationale behind it, and a plan for implementing it across all touchpoints, will set you up for brand success.


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