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Making Color Your Wheelhouse: A Designer's Guide

Whether you’re reaching into a box of crayons or shopping for the perfect shade of lipstick, when it comes to red, we all have a different idea of what a true red is.

While our individual emotional reaction to colors may vary, psychologists have studied what color represents and the response that it has regardless of age, demographic, or gender. Our collective response to color has been so strong that it has been debated since the introduction of Sir Isaac Newton’s color spectrum.

For example, red often evokes hunger. Many restauranteurs incorporate red into their color scheme; a lot of fast food companies especially can be seen turning to primary color palettes for their brand, e.g., McDonald's and Burger King. When it comes to branding with red, or any color for that matter, however, we as designers must know when to break these basic rules and when to follow them.

If Colors Could Speak

Often as a creative, I don’t always have the opportunity to start with a blank screen. Many clients who need design work done come with an established brand or design started, or even with a color in mind. This is where I can get creative by introducing new tiers of colors, but I have to be careful about already established color associations. For example, if I add orange to a black brand, I run the risk of creating a Halloween association.

This again has to do with our biological, psychological and emotional reaction to colors.

Sometimes this reaction can be beneficial. If we are doing seasonal and holiday campaigns, we naturally will have the freedom to introduce complementing colors that pay tribute to the occasion: red and green at Christmas or pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

My job is to ensure that in any piece of collateral that goes out to a client or in any graphic that is uploaded to a client’s website, the brand color doesn’t stray from its original palette.

Wassily Kandinsky once said that “color is a power which directly influences the soul.” That is something I often keep in mind while designing; I think that anytime you see color it really is going to impact you emotionally.

They say when you’re sad, you’re blue. Orange is a warming color. Green means go. But when you look at established brands, green also epitomizes peaceful brands such as Animal Planet, Whole Foods, BP, Tropicana and The Girl Scouts. These brands are tying themselves to the idea of harmony and a greater good for our Earth.

Woman looking at colorful paint samples

Color and Its Counterpart: Copy

When I’m creating a logo, I really need to take into consideration the audience. If I’m designing for a conservative bank, I don’t necessarily want to use the current resurgence of a 90s-color palate. Rather those vivid pops of color are better suited for brands like Snapchat, Instagram, a child’s museum, or a modern financial institution trying to reach Gen Y or Gen Z. Just as important, the colors need to be consistent with a corresponding tone. A color palette with a lot of personality calls for copy with just as much pizzazz. A neutral palate requires an element of mature content. Always keeping in mind both the client and their consumers helps me discover where I stop on the color wheel and where I start designing.

It’s also vital to assure my clients that the choices I make are intentional. I’m an expert designer who makes methodical decisions, and not random decisions based on a whim or on a personal color connection.

Getting Creative with Color

Another facet to color choice is taking into consideration those who are color blind. Here at HighRock, we strive to find ways to implement accessibility to make our art and tech as enjoyable and accessible as possible for everyone.

Our Photoshop tools enable us to proactively edit pictures so that those with colorblindness can have the most optimal experience. The most common form of colorblindness is red-green, followed by blue-yellow. Knowing this, we can make adjustments so the colors in the graphics look more distinguished and more accessible to read once uploaded or printed.

From pastels and primary colors to Pantone’s color of the year, we work with the entire wheelhouse, and for all ages. We also strive to make our web and print design easy to read by using high-contrast.

Color As a Foundation, Not a Filler

Color isn’t just something I use to fill in the blanks, or because I need some accent for a brand identity, or something loud I use to make a design stand out from the rainbow of competing companies.

Consumer purchases are driven by color every day. Color is so intentional that colors have infiltrated products and company names. “Purple”, the mattress company. The “Tickle Me Pink” Crayola crayon. There is even “JetBlue” airlines. When it comes to branding, I think of how I can turn that color into an emotional brand that is unforgettable for a client. How can I make a client something that becomes just as iconic as that Tiffany blue of Tiffany’s jewelry box?

Ready to rebrand or turn your new business into a brand? Let’s talk about the power of color and choose yours today.