A simple guide to nailing color theory and reassurance in trusting your instincts.

“What’s the best color for my logo?”

 “What does the color purple mean?”

 “Why is red the wrong choice for a bank’s ad campaign?”

We’re asked questions about color a lot. The designers on our team are well versed in color theory and have each spent significant time studying it, but when it comes to color, look to your emotions for the answer. You know more than you realize.

Wait, what’s color theory?

Color theory is a practical guidance of how color is formed and the relationships between different colors. Think primary and tertiary colors… but way deeper. The discipline itself stretches back to the 15th century, citing physics, mathematics and chemistry. There are color wheels upon color wheels, palettes to evoke certain emotional reactions, and variations including hues and saturations, brightness and perception.

It isn’t all about science, though.

How do you feel when you walk into an orange room or look at a bright blue sky? What colors are you drawn to? Which color makes you feel anxious, happy, or calm? Think about your emotional response to certain colors or color combinations and you’ll realize you know quite a lot—without ever having formally studied color theory. Usually, a person’s instincts are right on, so rest assured more times than naught your instinctual response to a color or color combination will be in line with the potential clients or customers you seek.

What will save me from my own bad taste?

It’s true, trends and influencers can hinder people’s natural reactions to colors and can potentially sway them from making the best decision when it comes to a palette visually defining their brand. What works for a gumball manufacturer doesn’t work for health care. Just because you like a color doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right fit for your company.

Never fear.

To help you when you’re in a pigment panic or to support you when you question your own instincts, we’ve put together a visual reference guide on the basics of color and the simple emotions they elicit:

Yellow

Yellow is frequently defined as cheerful, pleasant, and optimistic—the color of sunshine. The color can also be used to issue a warning or get attention.

Orange

Orange blends the cheerfulness of yellow with the intensity of red. It is frequently associated with food and the fall harvest and can give the sensation of heat.

Red

Red is an intense color that elicits feelings of energy, passion, and even danger or anger. It is the color of blood and has a negative connotation when talking about money.

Purple

Purple blends the energy of red with the power of blue. It is associated with royalty and can symbolize power, nobility, and luxury.

Blue

Blue is associated with tranquility, health, trust, and loyalty. It is the color of the sea and the sky. When used in dark variations it can also represent knowledge, power, and integrity.

Green

Green is strongly tied to nature and symbolizes growth, freshness, and even fertility. Green is also associated with money and safety and can suggest stability.

Black

Black denotes authority. It can also elicit feelings of power, grief, mystery, and even elegance. It frequently has a negative connotation but can be used to show strength.

White

White is pure and innocent. It means safety and cleanliness and generally has a positive connotation.

Interested in diving deeper?

Stay tuned for our next blog on color where we delve into combinations—good and bad, and what they can mean for shaping your brand’s visual identity.