A friend asks: “I have a few questions about selecting colors for my site, business cards & other visuals for my business. Is there a process, or science that insures that the look of these items fits the brand message for my business?”
Ah, color. One of the Greatest Design Mysteries of All Time (just kidding).
There’s some that will tell you that if you choose the wrong color for your business, and put it on all your marketing stuff, then things will be super-terrible and you’ll never get any clients.
But that’s not my style.
I will say that getting your color choices dialed in, and picking colors with care, will help in a bunch of ways.
Here’s Color 101 for Entrepreneurial Types:
There’s 5 color elements to juggle together when you’re choosing your color palette.
What: Every color has a meaning. Designer-types call it “color psychology”, in case you want the official name for it.
How to use it: When you’ve figured out what your brand message is, boil it down to a few basic concepts. Then go to Color Wheel Pro to read about which colors match your message. Or, if you want a fancier resource, try here.
Tricky bit: Colors can have contradictory meanings. Red in Western cultures means passion + love or anger + hate. Part of it is picking the right tone – bright red is good for love, dark red is good for anger. Part of it is trusting that your clients won’t think the red in the logo for your relationship coaching business means “anger”.
What: Contrast basically boils down to your colors not mushing up into a big pile of indistinctive blahness.
How to use it: You can get contrast in two ways: by using opposite colors (think red/green, orange/blue, yellow/purple) or by using brightness/darkness as a contrast (white and black contrast really well for this reason).
Tricky bit: What you do with the contrast depends on the message you’re sending out.
- High contrast is more readable, energetic and eye-catching, and adds variety to a design.
- Low contrast can give a more calming feel. You can use low contrast for background textures or subtle effects.
3. Keep It Simple
What: Choosing too many colors can wind up looking crazy, real fast. Like a rainbow exploded all over your design.
How to use it: You really only need two colors + a neutral (like black, grey, or maybe brown or tan if you’re getting fancy with it).
Tricky bit: I’ll let you have a bonus pop color if you ask nice but you have to use that one really sparingly (think: buttons and really extra-fancy places only)
Bonus wisdom: Unless you really know what’s what, keep your body text on your website and in your documents black with a white background. It’s the most readable combination.
4. You Can Add Black and White To Mix Up More Colors
What: Two colors? What? How is my design going to look awesome with just two colors?
How to use it: You can get some other new colors without making things look too crazy by adding white or black to your main colors. Then you can get more range.
Tricky bit: Some colors look really icky if you add black to them (like yellow). Others change their meaning entirely when you add white (think red-to-pink…) so proceed with caution.
5. Dullness + Brightness + Jewels
What: Another way of tuning in the emotion behind your colors.
How to use it: If you use rainbow-bright colors, it generates an excited, woohoo kind of feel, and can really make a strong visual impact. Jewel tones are luxurious. Dark colors can be mysterious or serious. Pastel colors are soft, fluffy and girly… perhaps even childish. Greyed out tones can be calming but can also can blend into the background.
Tricky bit: Not all variations of all colors will be viable. Greyed-out lime green, for example, just looks… ew.
Here’s the magic: You want to take all that into account and create a palette that looks good together.
If you’d like individualized advice on your color palette, but don’t want to do a whole big coaching to-do, here’s how you can get a little slice of design geniusing and advice from me.