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Nov 18 2011

Portland web design | How does color affect your branding?

I’ve been a graphic designer and web designer for quite a few years, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about color. I recently helped present at a workshop about marketing–hosted by MercyCorps Northwest in downtown Portland–and one of the questions we were asked was, “does the psychology of color matter when designing your logo and branding?” It was a good question, and color definitely plays a huge role in what your brand says to the world.

Color influences my brain?

It does, actually! If you’re not familiar with the Psychology of Color, it’s basically the idea that different colors have an effect on your mood and reaction to things in the world. It’s not an entirely misguided belief, either–have you ever gone into a room with orange or yellow on the walls, and felt a bit more energetic? That’s the psychology of color at work.

There are traditional associations with certain colors: blue is secure and tranquil, white is pure and clean, red is associated with comfort and intensity (and sometimes anger), green suggests nature and health, etc. You’ll see a lot of high-profile brands put this to work, and that’s why you see similar color palettes within a given industry. You’ll see banks and financial institutions use blue (Security!), wellness providers using green (Health!), and food-related companies using red. (Comfort! Energy!) Red can supposedly even make people hungry when they see it, so a food company can definitely benefit from that.

So, what does that mean for my logo?

If you learn how different colors affect you, and what they suggest to your audience, you can choose the colors that best fit what you do. You can use color to create that special feeling that you want everyone to associate with your brand. You can even choose colors that everyone will associate with your industry. So, if you’re opening a restaurant, go ahead and bust out that deep, rich, comforting red; you’ll get mouths watering for the tasty noms you’ll be serving, and everyone will know that you’re there to feed their hungry bellies.

…but I’m not like every other business in my industry!

If you’re doing things differently from the crowd, you can make color decisions that stand out. Rather than going with commonly-used colors, turn the psychology of color on its head and try something different from what your competition is doing! When done right, flying in the face of tradition can work in your favor–your brand may become more memorable than the rest of the field, because it’s different.

One example I shared at the workshop was a logo I designed for a local attorney starting her own law practice. Popular colors in the law industry tend to run in deeper, richer blues and browns, or even grays, but Diana didn’t want to style herself like other law practices. She wanted to set herself apart from others in her field, but she still needed a logo that would be professional-looking, and credible among her peers.

Once Diana told me that her goal was to focus in environmental and animal law, and that she loves Portland and the Northwest, I took that inspiration and chose green for the stylized “F” in her logo, to suggest the Northwest and environmental themes, and I also chose an energetic, popping shade of green, rather than the darker, richer shades you tend to see from most law practices. The darker gray also helps by rooting her in the law industry, and allows the green to pop even more, so she can market herself to her fellow lawyers and outside clients.

What’s the best choice for me?

You may not be sure whether to go with the grain or against it, so if you’re having trouble deciding what’s right for you, ask yourself: “does this color feel right for my brand?” Think about your work, your audience, the signature touches that make you unique, and the mood you’re trying to create. If the color fits with the feeling of your brand, then chances are, you’re on the right track.

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