If you’re about to brand your own personal business, this introductory guide to colour theory will help you find the right colour palette for your business.
Have you ever taken a quiz to find out what is your brand’s style, your brand’s personality or similar? I admit I have.
I cannot even remember how many I have taken out of curiosity. And one thing is common in these quizzes. There’s always a question that goes like this:
If your brand would be a person, what kind of clothes would it wear? And it asks you to pick a colour palette or colour combination from a list of options.
It’s a fun way to waste some precious online time. Nothing more.
Because 99% of the time you’re so biased by your own preferences that the clothes you pick will be clothes you usually wear. And the colours those that you like.
What’s wrong with that?
Your business and brand is not you. Your business and brand is a separate entity. Even if you are a so called “personal brand”, your business shouldn’t be an exact expression of your preferences. Instead it should
- solve a problem for your clients,
- show the “colours and clothes” they would wear
to make them comfortable and to trust you/your brand.
So then how should you choose the colours for your brand?
While it’s tempting and addictive, not by creating a Pinterest board with pictures you like. And picking some colours you like and that are dominant on the board.
You need to go way beyond that.
You need to understand your choices.
Because colours hold power
Everyone has an instinctive emotive connection to colours. How one feels about a specific colour or a design is up to the individual. The way we feel about colour can often be attributed to our subconscious, as well as personal preference.
- Did you have a bad encounter as a child with something that had a certain colour? You won’t list it among your favorite colours.
- Did your friends, colleagues complimented you when wearing a certain colour? Saying how well it suits you? It may have subconsciously influenced you later on when you bought clothes of a similar colour.
Because who doesn’t like to get compliments?
Also throughout history colour schemes have often been used to define different
- seasons and
depending on one’s culture and origin.
For example early Native Americans used different coloured paints to symbolize times of war and death, as well as for spiritual ceremonies and seasonal harvests.
Steeped in history throughout many cultures, people associated certain colours with particular feelings and emotions that are still very relevant in modern design:
- red is danger/attention,
- white is purity,
- black is grief.
To better understand colours and their influence on design and branding, let’s start with a refresher.
Basic colour theory
There are 3 primary colours:
- blue and
The primary colours are thought of as traditional colours and they cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colours. All colours are derived from these three hues.
You build the secondary colours by mixing the primary colours. If you need tertiary colours, then mix a primary and a secondary colour together.
All this in practice means e.g. that an equal amount of red and yellow would give you the colour orange.
- Secondary colours are purple, green, orange.
- Tertiary colours are: red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange.
Hue is the unmodified, pure form of a colour. You can change hues to suit a certain mood or project:
- by adding black, to create a shade,
- by adding white, to create a tint, or
- by adding both black and white to create a tone.
All these aspects form the basis of colour theory and allow a designer to anticipate the visual effect of a planned colour scheme.
When you develop colour schemes/palettes for a creative project, aim for a visually pleasing range of colours. These should engage the viewer and have a sense of inner balance and harmony.
When you pick the theme colours for a business brand, look for colours that represent the values associated with the business. Colours that visually communicate to your customers and clients what you stand for, how you would like to be perceived.
And it can mean that at the end your personal favourite colour has no place among your brand colours.
Because branding should not be about you. It should be about them.
When you look at the various brand style guides, or brand boards you will always see a pleasing colour palette. There is no rule in branding what type of palette your designer will suggest. It depends on the business values and goals you have.
Now let’s look at the various colour palettes or colour schemes that are used in design to see their differences. It’s important to know about these basics especially if you decide to brand your business yourself.
One of the most simple colour schemes is a monochromatic colour scheme. Monochromatic color schemes can be created by a variety of
- tones, and
but all colors used will originate from the same base hue. You can have a red based or blue based colour scheme.
A special form of monochromatic colour scheme is the grayscale colour scheme, that you create by mixing various shades of
- gray, and
The analogous colour scheme combines two or more colours that sit beside each other on the colour wheel. Analogous colour schemes often mimic the colour schemes found in our natural environment. They create a calm and relaxed feel when applied in design.
Typically analogous colours schemes consist of three colours that are side by side on the colour wheel. But they can be created involving several different hues and is not limited to a specific number. However, to be considered analogous, the colour scheme must have at least two hues.
It can be tricky to ensure that enough contrast exists when using this type of colour scheme. So aim to choose one colour as the feature colour, whilst the other two colours take a supportive role.
Complementary colour schemes, like the analogous, use at least two base hues. However, in complementary colour schemes the base hues sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel.
For example blue and orange or red and green.
Opposing colours on the colour wheel are dramatically different. And because of this they will create a high impact jolt when paired together.
Complementary colours are used to draw attention and emphasis to a particular space within a design. They can be quite effective when used in small doses.
However a complementary colour scheme is difficult to get right when used in large applications and you shouldn’t use it for text.
#4 Triadic and #5 Split complementary
Triadic colour schemes are slightly more complicated. They involve three completely separate hues evenly spaced from each other on the colour wheel. When the colours are linked by a straight line, they form a triangle.
The three colours used in this scheme tend to sit well together and can be quite lively and harmonious. One colour should govern the overall design while using the other two colours to complement.
Split complementary colour schemes are like the complementary colour scheme but with a slight deviation. Two of the three colours will be spaced closer together than the third, separated only by the third colour’s opposite on the wheel.
Using a split complementary colour scheme is less risky as the result of the three colours together is less harsh and not as loud as a complementary colour scheme.
This may appear highly technical and overwhelming at first read. But if you use colours and colour palettes as part of your daily job, it’s something that you need to get acquainted with over time.
If you feel this is too much, and you are looking for a simpler solution to get harmonious, balanced colour palettes, than simply look at good old mother nature.
While you are out for a walk in the nearby park, or looking out from your window and admiring a sunrise/sunset, take a few photos.
What could be more harmonious and natural, than the amazing colours provided by nature itself?
Just don’t forget to analyze the colours based on their meaning too, and mix them up based on your business values.
Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series that will focus on the colours RED, ORANGE and YELLOW.
Now let’s have some fun!
How well do you know colours?
Take this evergreen quiz and find out!
Disclaimer: The quiz will open in a new window and is powered by SurveyMonkey.
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