There are plenty of ways to choose brand colours that are good and appropriate when designing or redesigning a corporate identity. You do research, look at the competition, develop a brand strategy and personality, then make a highly informed decision on the specific colours that you want to use to represent the brand on all marketing collateral and communications going forward.
But what if you’re new to this whole design thing and don’t really want to put any effort into finding good brand colours?
Do you think an appropriate way to choose brand colours is doing eeny, meeny, miny, moe on a swatch panel in Illustrator?
If so, this is for you; a brief list of a few of the worst ways to choose brand colours for a branding project. For those of you who don’t want to read the full post, let me summarize the key points. Since the best way to choose brand colours is to make deliberate and meaningful colour choices, the 5 worst ways to choose brand colours would be to copy the competition or a popular brand, follow a trend, pick colours at random, or not choose at all.
1. Copying The Competition
If your trying to choose brand colours for a new or existing brand, do not copy the colours from that brand’s direct competition. Competing brands need to stand apart from each other, and having identical brand colours is not the way to do this; it simply creates confusion.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that your client won’t ask you to use their competitor’s colours in a poor attempt to piggyback off their brand success, hoping customers will mistake you for them. It happens. Try to steer your client in the direction that makes them want to stand out from their competition, not look like their imitation.
2. Replicating a Popular Brand’s Colours
Do you like the colour scheme that Pepsi uses? Great. Leave their colours to them. If you find a popular brand with the exact colours you want for the brand your designing for, do not use those specific colours. If it’s a red, blue, and white colour scheme you want, don’t take the colours directly from the Pepsi logo. Choose a different red and blue. There are over 16,000 colours to chose from in the CMYK rainbow, so you’ve got some options.
The brand recognition of some colour combinations is very strong for brands like Pepsi or McDonalds, and your objective is to choose brand colours that are unique to the brand you are designing for. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be inspired by how well other brands use their colour schemes; because you should.
Look at what other successful brands are doing in terms of colour schemes; when those colours are used, how colour enforces the brand visuals, and use that as a starting point in choosing a unique colour scheme for your brand.
3. Choosing Trendy Colours
This one is tricky because clients might want to immediately go with a colour palate that is trendy rather than what works, and you might be inclined to do so as well. I mean, trendy colours are fine… if they work for the brand. However, if you’re only choosing colours because they are trendy, they will not work for the long term.
After the success of Apple with the release of the first iPhone, and the popularity of the Apple store, the ‘Apple aesthetic’ was really popular and many brands were opting for the clean whites and greys for their brand colours. There’s nothing really wrong with this, assuming they aren’t directly copying everything Apple was doing in terms of visuals, but it was still a trendy thing to do; not necessarily the best thing for a particular brand. Additionally, if everyone uses brand colours that follow a specific trend, those brands tend to get lost, visually, in a sea of other brands trying the same tactic.
4. Choosing At Random
Making sure the chosen colours are actually appropriate for the brand is probably the most important aspect of how to choose brand colours. If you pick a good colour scheme at random, just based on your own personal preference, you’re likely to get colours that won’t work for the brand at all.
It’s important to have a basic understanding of colour theory here. You need to pick a colour scheme that works for the brand overall, that works with the industry it’s in and its brand personality, and not just pick colours you think work well together. This will require some research to get right, but then you’ll be able to successfully justify your chosen colour palate to the client.
5. Not Choosing Colours at All
Unless you make an actual, informed choice to choose a colour palate for the brand during the branding process, they will end up with no particular colour scheme at all. This can cause some pretty dramatic brand inconsistencies over the years which will impede their brand recognition. This can happen if a designer or agency supplies the client with the logo files but does not provide even a basic branding guide for the company employees to use going forward; which would include logo usage, messaging, and specific colours.
How To Make Meaningful Brand Colour Choices
In figuring out how to create educated, appropriate brand colours, you need to have a basic understanding of colour theory. Certain colours are often perceived in different ways across cultures. Basically, colours have their own sort of branding and you need to learn how to work within existing perceptions of them in order to find a colour combination that is appropriate for a certain brand.
For example, the majority of tech companies use colours like blue and grey in their brand colours (Sony, Samsung, Dell, Facebook/Meta, HP, Intel, Panasonic, etc.) because those colours evoke knowledge, technology, and masculinity, though that particular colour combination can also seen as cold, detached, and dull. You’ll often see red being used as well since it’s a colour that evokes power and passion (Netflix, Cisco, Huawei, etc.)
Brands that deal with food, like restaurants, tend to choose colours like orange, yellow, brown, red, or green, as those are seen as more natural and food-like (McDonalds, Subway, Wendy’s, A&W, Burger King, etc.)
This doesn’t even touch on the basics of colour theory, but once you know the rules, you can learn how to effectively break them. It’s not a bad thing to go against the grain and choose a colour scheme for a brand in an industry that it isn’t traditionally seen in, like using pink in a tech logo, or blue for a restaurant. It really just depends how the colours are used, what they’re combined with, and if they are appropriate for the particular brand your designing for.
How Not To Choose Brand Colours – In Summary
Basically, every part of a brand strategy, including colour choices, should be completed after thorough industry and competitive research.
When you choose brand colours, you are trying to figure out how colours will look in a logo, in a background pattern, in an ad, online, and in print. You also need to consider how the colours will look with whatever brand imagery you will choose, especially if want want all brand imagery to look a certain way.
Even if your not creating a full brand strategy, as is often the case with smaller clients or clients with a minimal budget, you should still be putting together some sort of a guide to accompany your logo design that includes basic logo usage and brand colours.
What’s the worst way you’ve seen someone choose brand colours before? What’s your go-to method to choose brand colours? Let me know in the comments below!