Choosing a color for a brand

Arseni Mourzenko
Founder and lead developer
November 6, 2014
Tags: management 34 meetings 1

It is not un­usu­al for some com­pa­nies to spend nu­mer­ous meet­ings dis­cussing the col­or(s) to use for a logo of a prod­uct. Some may waste hours or days be­cause no­body agrees about the col­or(s) but every­one agrees that choos­ing the wrong col­or will def­i­nite­ly de­stroy the prod­uct.

Three people with different styles are suggesting their preferred color Il­lus­tra­tion by Au­ré­line Léonard

This is prob­a­bly one of the most il­lus­tra­tive man­i­fes­ta­tions of Parkin­son's Law of Triv­i­al­i­ty. Ide­al­ly:

With­out be­ing con­de­scend­ing, no­body cares about the col­or of your brand. Have you ever seen a cus­tomer who re­fused to pur­chase Mi­crosoft SQL Serv­er be­cause its logo is red? Have you ever seen a per­son who told you that she will nev­er ever use any prod­uct by Syman­tec be­cause their brand col­or is yel­low? Do you know a lot of peo­ple who hate Ap­ple be­cause the ap­ple on their logo is gray?

The fact that the sym­bol­ic of dif­fer­ent col­ors may in­flu­ence your cus­tomers is non­sense. As any oth­er col­or-re­lat­ed dis­cus­sions I heard from peo­ple who were de­sign­ing their logo or brand. Let's see what are those dis­cus­sions and why do they make no sense what­so­ev­er.


“Blue is a col­or of com­mu­ni­ca­tion; our logo needs to be blue.”

Blue is the col­or of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Every com­pa­ny wants to show that their next big prod­uct has wel­com­ing sales­peo­ple, help­ful sup­port, easy to use web­site, and in short has friend­ly and com­mu­nica­tive peo­ple work­ing on it.

Based on that, you've se­lect­ed blue as the brand col­or for the prod­uct. Ex­cel­lent.

Since you've cho­sen blue based on what col­ors rep­re­sent, it means that from your point of view, your prod­uct is:

A disk with six colors, each one illustrating one quality

No­tice the non­sense?

Every­one wants to give an im­pres­sion that their com­pa­ny is en­vi­ron­ment-friend­ly. But every­one also wants to make el­e­gant prod­ucts while giv­ing an im­age of a pow­er­ful busi­ness, while be­ing warm and hir­ing peo­ple full of hap­pi­ness. If what col­ors rep­re­sent mat­ters so much for you, the only thing you can do is to have a logo with an­i­mat­ed GIFs of joy­ful uni­corns throw­ing shin­ing rain­bows and mul­ti-col­or fire­works.

“The fash­ion this year is for green and the one the year be­fore is for or­ange. Let's use those col­ors for our brand.”

This was an ar­gu­ment of a cus­tomer of mine to de­sign the logo of his com­pa­ny.

First, what fash­ion? The com­pa­ny was re­lat­ed to for­tune man­age­ment. I nev­er heard that in this busi­ness, there is a fash­ion for col­ors which change every year. Nev­er mind; even if there is a fash­ion for col­ors in for­tune man­age­ment, us­ing these cri­te­ria for a logo is weird. Not count­ing the fact that in a year, the logo will be, fash­ion-wise, ob­so­lete.

Worst of all, such choice vi­o­lates the el­e­men­tary rules of col­or as­so­ci­a­tion. The two col­ors are nei­ther com­ple­men­tary, nor anal­o­gous, nor tri­ad-based. Show­ing on a logo that you don't know those most ba­sic rules is em­bar­rass­ing.

“In our sec­tor, every­one uses red, so we should use it too.”

This one came from a cus­tomer who was work­ing on a pro­ject of an e-com­merce web­site sell­ing spare parts for ve­hi­cles.

Sure, don't in­no­vate and es­pe­cial­ly don't try to dis­tin­guish your­self from your com­peti­tors. Oth­er­wise, some cus­tomer may no­tice you among all oth­er com­pa­nies with sim­i­lar prod­ucts.

Brand­ing is about to be eas­i­ly rec­og­niz­able and the choice of a col­or is one of the ways to be rec­og­nized. By pick­ing the col­or be­cause it's used by your com­peti­tors is the ex­act op­po­site of you should do if you care about the col­ors of oth­er com­pa­nies sell­ing sim­i­lar stuff.

“There is only one col­or sym­bol­iz­ing the sec­tor tar­get­ed by the prod­uct.”

EDF, French elec­tric util­i­ty com­pa­ny, uses or­ange as its pri­ma­ry brand col­or and blue as com­ple­men­tary (op­po­site) col­or. Or­ange – the col­or of en­er­gy. Is the or­ange the only choice?

While or­ange seems a wise choice, one could use red (pow­er), yel­low (en­er­gy from the sun), green (en­vi­ron­ment-friend­ly en­er­gy) or blue (wind tur­bines).

The same ap­plies to any oth­er sec­tor. Noth­ing forces you to use a spe­cif­ic col­or every time.

“Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey, many of our po­ten­tial cus­tomers like green col­or the most.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey, there are peo­ple who like nuggets, so in­stead of cre­at­ing a new CRM, you should start pro­duc­ing nuggets.

There is no such a thing as the best col­or. If you find a sur­vey or a study telling that it's proven that you will have 122.4% in­crease in sales if you pick green over blue as your brand col­or, throw this sur­vey or study away.

In all cas­es, peo­ple don't choose your prod­uct over a prod­uct of your com­peti­tor be­cause they pre­fer the col­or of your brand. They do it be­cause their friends told them that you're great, or be­cause you have very com­pet­i­tive prices, or be­cause you're known for pro­duc­ing prod­ucts of a very high qual­i­ty, or be­cause you have an ex­cel­lent sup­port.

“Cul­tur­al ref­er­ences mat­ter. We shouldn't choose red be­cause it sym­bol­izes dan­ger in Japan.”

It also sym­bol­izes pu­ri­ty in In­dia and joy and luck in Chi­na, so you have to de­cide if you want to sell your prod­uct in Japan or in In­dia and Chi­na.

Cul­tur­al ref­er­ences do mat­ter when it comes to icons and sym­bols, but doesn't make sense for choos­ing a brand. No Japan­ese will refuse to vis­it your web­site be­cause it has a white back­ground while white is a col­or of death in Japan.

So it doesn't mat­ter, is it?

Nope. Don't choose col­ors based on some fan­cy cri­te­ria, and es­pe­cial­ly don't spend hours or days on meet­ings, telling to oth­er peo­ple that you should use green as your brand col­or be­cause <what­ev­er rea­son you like>. Cus­tomers would be yours be­cause you're ex­cel­lent, be­cause you know your busi­ness, be­cause you re­spect your cus­tomers, be­cause you're com­pet­i­tive, be­cause you have a sol­id rep­u­ta­tion, etc. No­body ever se­lects a brand over an­oth­er be­cause of its col­or. Se­lect a ran­dom base col­or; any skill­ful de­sign­er will be able to do great things with any col­or.

The only thing that mat­ters is that once your brand starts to be pop­u­lar, chang­ing the col­or is some­times not an op­tion, since cus­tomers may stop rec­og­niz­ing your brand. There are still ex­cep­tions. For ex­am­ple, re­cent­ly Mi­crosoft changed the four-col­or logo of Win­dows, to blue.