Color Theory and Branding

Color Theory and Branding

I’ve been hearing a lot about color theory recently. I’m especially interested since we design websites and help with branding. I’m also the kind of person who likes to think about the meaning behind certain things and events—the psychology, if you will. So I’ve decided to dig in and do the research: see for myself what feelings I’ll invoke in others if I make our website yellow instead of blue. 

Ever since I was a child I have heard people assert things about colors. “Don’t decorate with red in a dining room or you will overeat.” “Green represents growth and new life.” Article after article addresses the psychology of colors and what each one “represents.” But what I found was that each either regurgitated the same content or completely contradicted the previous article, leading me to believe many of these assertions are unfounded. But there has to be something to it, right? Let’s start with the rainbow.  

Naming the rainbow

“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.”
- Herman Melville,
Billy Budd

Aatish Bhatia wrote a compelling piece on how “naming the rainbow” may have limited us visually. He says, “We’re taking something that has no natural boundaries – the frequencies of visible light – and dividing into convenient packages that we give a name.” He describes naming the colors as “giving the rainbow seams.” Aatish points out that many cultures, including Japanese and Thai, blur the lines between green and blue. And ancient Japanese had only one word for both blue and green: ao.

Cultural differences

So some cultures don’t draw the lines in the same place. That doesn’t affect how the colors make them feel, right? Maybe not, but it’s true that cultural differences do affect color associations.

colors in culture.jpg

This infographic from Information is Beautiful illustrates what colors those around the world associate with certain ideas. Look at #53, love. American and Japanese cultures associate the color red with love. But Hindu cultures associate green. Blue for African. And Native American cultures use the color yellow to represent love. 

Capricious associations

Even within cultures, color association is fairly arbitrary. My husband, for example, hates the color orange because he associates it with his rival high school colors. My sister loves orange because she associates it with a warm childhood memory. Each person’s feelings, interests, cultures aren’t going to align in order to give you a magical color wheel.

So—seriously—how do I pick a color?

Since everyone’s individual color preferences and associations differ, there’s only one thing for you to do, and that’s to pick colors that reflect your brand. Sure, it’s not that simple, which is why I’ll be delving into the process of choosing brand colors in part two. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Part two is up: Choosing Brand Colors.


About the author

Autumn Nicholson.jpg

I'm Autumn Nicholson, Director of Internet Marketing. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in English and took the first editing job I could find, at a marketing company in South Carolina. I joined Farmore Marketing in 2014 to put my internet marketing experience to good use—and to spend more time on the beach. I invest much of my time volunteering for nonprofits, reading, and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. You can connect with me here:

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