A quick guide to colour psychology and branding

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Colours impact our emotions and perceptions. These impacts need to be considered when choosing brand colours.

I'm designing a logo and visual identity for a client's newly acquired vehicle transport company, and in the midst of researching logos in the marketplace. As happens in many business categories, there are some dominant colours used – dark blue, dark grey and black, with splashes of red, orange and yellow. It makes sense that transport companies would use the darker, cooler colours to be perceived as serious, stable and reliable; and the brighter, vibrant colours to show they are energetic and confident.

Colour is the number one component of your brand that people remember. So you need to choose wisely, not only for a positive emotional response and to represent your brand personality, but to stand out in the clutter.

Colour meanings

By understanding the psychology and symbolism of colours you can harness the power of colour in your branding. Below is a summary of common colour meanings and associations for Western culture. In other cultures colour meaning can be very different, so if you’re an international brand you need to consider this.

 
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Red

Red is the colour of blood and fire. Red is assertive, daring, energetic and exciting. It symbolises action and confidence.
It is also associated with danger and anger.

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Brown

Brown is earthy, natural, organic and wholesome. It symbolises the outdoors, stability and tradition. Brown indicates being approachable and genuine.
Negatively it can be seen as dogmatic and dirty.

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Green

Green is the colour of nature and the environment. It is associated with freshness, healing, harmony, peace, stability and fertility. It also symbolises safety and ‘go’, as well as finance and wealth.
Negatively it is associated with envy, jealousy and guilt

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Yellow

Yellow is the colour of sunshine. It communicates joy, happiness, optimism, hope, friendliness and energy. It can be associated with intellect, enlightenment and mental clarity, as well as safety.
Negatively it can be mean irresponsible, unstable and hazardous.

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Orange

Orange is fun, friendly and flamboyant. It is associated with warmth, energy, activity, youthfulness, creativity, courage, adventure, freedom and determination.
Orange is a colour people have strong 'love' or 'hate' opinions about.

 

Pink

Pink is stereotypically associated with females. It represents compassion, and is playful and cute. It’s also a diverse colour, as bright and pale pinks evoke different emotions.
Bright pink is energetic (similar to red) as well as youthful, fun and exciting. Pale pink is sensual, light-hearted and positive. It is associated with love, romance, tenderness and sweetness.

Negative associations include weakness and immaturity.

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Grey

Grey can symbolise formality, sophistication, conservatism, security, reliability and intelligence. It can be perceived as long-lasting, classic and sleek.
It is also associated with being dull, dingy, gloomy and sad.

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Blue

Blue is versatile, and is the most universally favoured colour. It is the colour of the sky and sea and is often associated with depth, stability and tranquillity. It symbolises trust, loyalty, cleanliness, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, integrity and truth.
Not all blues are serene and sedate. Electric or brilliant blues are dynamic, dramatic and exhilarating.

Negative associations include sadness, depression (feeling ‘blue’), coldness and fear.

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Purple

Traditionally associated with royalty and nobility, purple still connotes luxury, dignity, ambition and grandeur. It also has a spiritual, mysterious quality and can represent peace, creativity and magic.
Darker shades of purple are more associated with extravagance and opulence while lighter lavender shades are feminine, sentimental and nostalgic.

The symbolism of mystery may be a negative, depending on your brand, along with its association with moodiness.

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White

White is associated with goodness, innocence, purity and cleanliness. It represents simplicity, perfection and freshness. It has a modern, minimalist quality.
Negatively it can be stark and sterile and associated with isolation and emptiness.

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Black

Black is bold, serious, dramatic, elegant and mysterious. It is associated with protection, formality, authority, luxury and sophistication.
It is also associated with death, mourning, fear and evil.

 

And my client?

So what colour direction is my vehicle transport client headed? We're looking at using a bold colour – hot pink or bright aqua – combined with black to make it pop. Something that's eye-catching, different to key competitors, and that says 'dynamic'. We'll certainly be harnessing the full power of colour for this brand identity.

Meirav Dulberg