The Psychology of Colour and Choosing a Palette for Your Brand

In my first year of university as a fashion communication student, we had a required class that most of us either loved or hated: Fundamentals of Design and Colour. I've heard rumours that nowadays the class is taught digitally, but when I was a student, it was all done by hand.

Every week we had to submit a design board, which was essentially a collage that illustrated a design principle, pieced together with magazine clippings (this was pre-Pinterest), colour swatches, and a hand done paragraph in what was called single stroke vertical lettering. We were marked by our choice of images and composition, how clean our cuts were and how neatly everything was glued down. It was one of the hardest classes we had, primarily because our teacher was not only a stickler for precision and perfection, but also brilliant when it came to colour theory. She was part of an international trend forecasting organization that predicted the colour trends years in advance, and I had so much respect for her and her immaculate eye when it came to colour. It was one of my favourite classes, and quite possible the start of my love affair with colour. 

Whether it's being used in branding, fashion, or decor (to name just a few applications), colour has an immense power to evoke emotion and control how a brand is perceived. Every colour triggers an emotional and psychological response, so it's important to have an understanding of what each colour represents before committing to a specific palette for your brand. 

Colour plays an important role when it comes to defining your visual strategy, and since we already talked about styling your brand and the role of a visual strategy, I thought it would be good to dive into the psychology of colour a little more.

Not only is colour important for your brand identity, but it's also something you'll want to pay attention to when you're creating your brand imagery. It's why we tend to be drawn to specific accounts on Instagram, for example, because they've identified a colour palette and have created a consistent instagram brand presence through their use of colour

So take a look at what the various colours represent, and hopefully this will give you the understanding you need to be able to choose brand colours based on which ones align with your vision and values. 


BLACK

Power and elegance, the colour of authority, which works well for fashion, editorial and luxury brands.  It has a sleek, timeless and bold appeal, but can also be associated with evil and grieving depending on its use.

  • Bold
  • Powerful
  • Sophisticated
  • Dramatic
  • Formal
  • Classic
  • Elegant
  • Distinction
  • Mystery
  • Secrecy
  • Serious
  • Authority
     

NEUTRAL

Think grey, blush and ivory, with touches of metallic and marble. Calming, sleek and neutral, giving it a modern feel. Can be used in tech industries, or more conservative corporate settings as it signifies sleek design, or in brands that want to evoke a luxe, modern appeal.

  • Techy
  • Sleek
  • Modern
  • Futuristic
  • Neutral
  • Calm
  • Conservative
  • Open

BROWN

Has a rugged earthiness associated with it, connoting depth, richness and utility. Also relates to natural, handmade and artisanal brands, and can work really well for men's products..

  • Rich
  • Subtlety
  • Utility
  • Earthy
  • Depth
  • Rough

PURPLE

Evokes serenity and artistry. Darker shades tend to be used for luxury brands, calling upon its natural representation of royalty, while lighter shades tend to be more feminine. Has an air of mystery, largely due to it being a rare colour in nature. Feels nostalgic and airs on the side of the spiritual.

  • Wealthy
  • Abundance
  • Spiritual
  • Mystery
  • Fantasy
  • Sophistication
  • Creative
  • Soothing
  • Calming
  • Luxury
  • Majestic
  • Royalty

BLUE

Represents trustworthiness, calm and loyalty, making it a great choice for financial institutions, social networks, and corporate industries aiming to exude authority and confidence. Also a popular choice for beauty and wellness brands hoping to relay a message of serenity, or products that want to be associated with cleanliness. A natural choice for any brands that have a tie to water, sea, sky or air as well.

  • Peaceful
  • Harmonious
  • Reliable
  • Serene
  • Authority
  • Confidence
  • Loyalty
  • Coolness
  • Trust
  • Security
  • Dependable
  • Calming

GREEN

Has a tendency towards the natural, environmental and fresh, making it perfect for fresh food or eco-friendly brands. Also alludes to wealth and growth. Represents “go” and thus has a natural feeling of positivity, promise and newness.

  • Organic
  • Earthy
  • Calming
  • Environmental
  • Positive
  • Healing
  • Wealth
  • Health
  • Balance
  • Relaxing
  • Easy-going
  • Fresh

YELLOW

Bright and energetic, representing positivity and cheerfulness. Feels happy and excited, and alludes to warmth because of its association with sunshine. Can have a young appeal because of it’s joyful nature, which also means it’s not used very often for expensive products or in men’s markets.

  • Joyful
  • Lighthearted
  • Sunny
  • Caution
  • Curiosity
  • Happiness
  • Sunshine
  • Energetic
  • Creative
  • Friendly
  • Bright
  • Positivity
  • Warmth
  • Cheerful

ORANGE

Energetic and vibrant, while giving off an inviting, friendly vibe. Fun and playful, with a high energy appeal. Also tends to evoke a retro vibe and is often used to stimulate emotions.

  • Energetic
  • Happy
  • Positive
  • Confident
  • Affordability
  • Vibrant
  • Friendly
  • Aggressive
  • Fun
  • Warm
  • Playful
  • Cheerful

RED

Tends to have a double meaning, associated with energy, war, danger and power, but also passion, desire and love. Draws attention and evokes intensity.. Great for a brand who wants to evoke passion and exude drama, as it’s an emotionally intense colour that demands attention. Can be overpowering if overused. Known to stimulate appetite.

  • Powerful
  • Strength
  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Aggression
  • Drive
  • Excitement
  • Dynamic
  • Energy
  • Urgency
  • Courage
  • Warmth
  • Love
  • Passionate
  • Dangerous
  • Dramatic

PINK

Perceived as being feminine, soft and delicate. Bright and vibrant pink tones evoked a boldness and modern sensibility, while paler shades are more on the gentle side, often used for beauty brands. Thought of as being friendly and light-hearted, evoking innocence and an often young girlishness.

  • Playful
  • Compassion
  • Health
  • Beauty
  • Gratitude
  • Innocent
  • Modern
  • Feminine
  • Romantic
  • Tranquility
  • Sexuality
  • Soft
  • Gentle
  • Sweet

pastel

Technically not a colour, but I thought it would be a colour palette worth highlighting, as lighter shades of our classic colours often invoke a different set of emotions, and are becoming increasing popular in branding. Leaves you with a feeling of airiness, freshness and lightheartedness, and definitely on the playful side. Paired with graphic black and white or metallic touches, pastels can feel especially modern. By sticking to similar shades of different colours, it's possible to create a cohesive brand palette without feeling too limited by having to stick with one or two colours.


Now that you have a better sense of the psychology behind specific colours, next week I’ll be diving into an example of a project I’ve been working on and sharing the behind the scenes of how I take a concept from beginning to finished product - in this case, brand photos. So if you're curious to see what this process of inspiration board to visual strategy looks like and want to learn how to define your own, stay tuned.

And if you tend to get stuck on coming up with ideas for your branded content, I’ve got a cheatsheet with Content Ideas for Brand Photos, which is particularly helpful when you need an idea for a social media or blog post image - because we’ve all been there!