We’ve all heard the rumors that fast food companies use red in their logos to stimulate our appetites subconsciously, but it turns out that choosing color for your branding and design means a lot more than making you hungry for an extra Big Mac.

We love branding and design that is beautiful, but the fact of the matter is that a brand is largely about functionality. You’re sending a message to your audience with a visual image integrated into your company name and copy.  So today, let’s have a little fun with color and talk about how to achieve the message you want with your color choices.

Authority, Intelligence, Sophistication and Strength

You’ll often see black, gray and chrome reflected in automotive ads, and it’s no accident. These colors convey authority and strength—important when putting your life in a company’s hands—as well as intelligence and sophistication.

Black and gray are good colors to include in corporate branding, but be careful on how much you use. Too much black can look heavy; too much gray can seem somber.

Energy, Happiness or Excitement

Here’s a tip for new parents: you may think bright yellow is a cute color for those nursery walls, but you’ll think again once you hear this: yellow, red and orange create happiness, energy and excitement. Perfect for many consumer brands. Not so much for a sleeping infant.

Using these bright colors brings a light-hearted feel to your brand, drawing the eye and attention to wherever you are using them. These are good colors for accents, but be careful not to overuse them as they can also overwhelm. For example, yellow sparks creativity and actually creates a sense of optimism when we see it, but overuse can put us on edge. (Studies show tempers flare in a bright yellow room—not a good color for a law firm’s conference room!)

Think of the brands that use these colors to get the gist of the messaging: McDonald’s, IKEA, Virgin Airlines, Coca Cola and even Amazon take these bold colors into their logos and it makes sense: these brands are accessible, friendly and consumer-facing.

Nature, Youth and Money

Green is a particularly organic color, and many brands use it to tie into earth elements as they relate to mood, like youthfulness, renewal and growth. Of course, green’s also the color of money.

It’s no mistake that gas and oil companies like Hess and BP heavily utilize green in their logos to combat some of the negative environmental effects with which they are often associated.  The color relaxes and soothes us and conveys safety and trust.

Perhaps one of the most famous brands to utilize the color? Starbucks, with its green circle surrounding a black and white mermaid. Their current logo evolved from a brown version, and today the company is branded as youthful and environmentally-responsible.

Quality and Reliability

One of the most famous companies to utilize brown in its logo went so far as to incorporate the color into its slogan for years: “What can brown do for you?” There’s perhaps no more important message for a package delivery company to convey than reliability, and ubiquitous brown UPS trucks take advantage of the psychology of color up and down the streets of America every day.

Brown is also often used in packaging to convey a natural product or connection with the earth and to convey a high-quality product.

Trustworthiness, Serenity and Security

It’s no coincidence that many healthcare and financial organizations make heavy use of the color blue in their branding. The color conveys dependability and even fiscal responsibility that are essential for both industries. Blue is also the primary color in the logo of large social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn—though Twitter takes on a lighter blue to convey a more fun personality.

The color blue has the opposite effects of some of the brighter colors on the spectrum like red, yellow and orange. It allows us to produce chemicals that are calming and help with productivity, making it a perfect choice for companies trying to instill trust and security as part of their brand messaging.

Curious about how major brands use the psychology of color in their design? Check out this Smashing Magazine article on colors in corporate branding and design. Learn how Home Depot, Merrill Lynch, Hershey’s and other international brands send brand messages through the use of color.

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