Colour: the tool of tools. The non-verbal master communicator. If a picture tells a thousand words, then at least half of those words are spoken by the colour palette. As a business, the colours you choose to represent your brand will tell a very specific story. Not only about your values and how you perceive yourself, but how you wish to be perceived by others. This is why it’s such an important (though sometimes overlooked) aspect of brand design.

Here, then, are the basics of colour coding for businesses. 

Colour and sector

First of all, it’s important to be aware of the sorts of colour palettes native to particular sectors. This is a classic case of learning the rules before breaking them. Because unless you know what slice of the spectrum is generally used to represent your industry, you won’t be able to apply colour to your own business in a meaningful and unique way.

Some colour/business-type pairings:

  • Finance and law: generally go with a traditional, authoritative aesthetic. This usually manifests as dark blue, burgundy, and classic green. Very little/no use of primary colours.
  • Environmental: lots of greens and blues (representative of grass and sky).
  • Youth oriented: this can be seen as the reverse of finance and law. Generous use of primary colours like red, yellow, and blue. No dark, moodier colours (like burgundy).
  • Minimalist: black and white.

These are, of course, only representative of general trends. And whilst it’s common to see darker, more traditional colours used for the branding of a law firm, there will be examples of companies who go against the grain. The main thing to focus on is mood. It’s thinking about the kinds of feelings you want your brand to evoke in people. This is why you’ll probably struggle to find many spas with bright red branding, because red doesn’t elicit the emotions that a spa wants to be associated with. It’s also why you’ll find that most nurseries deal in primary colours.

To help in pairing your own business to a specific mood, take a look at the chart below. As an experiment, look at your branding as it is now. Then think about how you want your brand to be perceived (lively, friendly, elegant, etc). Does your current colour palette match up to your desired mood? If not, look at what mood it does represent, and ask yourself if that could be potentially detrimental.

All colours, big and small

A similar point has been made before in a different context, but an important factor to bear in-mind when thinking about colour is size. There’s no guarantee as to which medium, or on what device, people will be viewing your brand. Which means that it must work in all sizes. The problem is that even when we purposely create things to be viewed in both small and large form, it’s easy to overlook colour, which can be fatal. The good news is that there are a few simple rules to follow for achieving all-size legibility.

First of all, try to avoid using two very light colours on top of each other. The reason for this is that although it will work fine enlarged, it can become very tricky on the eyes at smaller, smartphone-sized, levels. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to pair a strong shade with its lighter counterpart.

Second (and this can actually be used as a cure-all for the first point): always have a black and white version of your logo. This safeguards against any potentially difficult iterations, and always provides a back-up for any business card-sized disasters.

Defining your spectrum

Elsewhere on the blog it’s been recommended that you try to stick to a maximum of two colours when creating a logo. This is generally a good rule to follow. But when it comes to your overall branding and marketing, there’s room for the palette to expand. For example, if your logo is black and orange, then you can branch out to using colours like blue and green when putting together marketing materials (this could mean using a blue background on a flyer, or a green border on a business card). The key is to make sure that any additional colours compliment the colours of your logo.

As a guide, the chart below is a good reference point for putting together colour combinations (remember, opposites attract).

There’s always a lot to think about with regards to colour in business. And it’s certainly beneficial to give it some deeper consideration when it comes to branding, re-branding, and marketing. And once you know the rules, it can really help to consolidate the tone and personality of your overall brand.