Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Every small business owner has to do a little bit of thinking about the visual cues associated with their company: whether or not they want to use a logo, for example, or what fonts to put on their business card or website. For many, color choices are made within seconds based on personal taste, without much thought about how “brand” colors will affect public perception of the company. “Color theory” is just theory, right? Everyone has different feelings and ideas about colors—on a conscious level. What designers and marketing directors know about color is that it communicates much more directly to the subconscious. The human subconscious response to color has been shaped by thousands of years of survival and cultural preferences, making it pretty easy to engineer a color scheme for desired effects.
Color Coding: Theory in Action
The colors used in the home and culture you were raised in will have a huge impact on your first impression of a brand. One look at a toy catalog will prove how strongly American culture associates pink and blue with boys and girls, even though a 1918 marketing campaign for infant clothing had them transposed: pink for boys and blue for girls. Deeply ingrained associations like this can’t be ignored in small business branding.
Once you’ve chosen the right colors, their arrangement can have a huge effect on the subconscious message as well. Though dark colors on white may seem boring, it’s the design standard for text because it draws the eye to the content with minimal distraction. Strong branding accounts for the total effect of its color scheme.
Take, for instance, the difference between warm and cool colors. Their associations with fire and water may seem pretty obvious, but what you might not know is that warm colors appear to advance as the eye adjusts its focus and cool colors recede. Against a blue background, a pink icon would appear closer than the surface, whereas a blue icon would sink into a pink background. This occurs because red light waves have longer wavelengths than blue ones.
Similarly, darker colors seem to advance while lighter colors recede. The iconic red and white Coca Cola logo “pops” because it has no black outline to counteract the bright red, grounding it to the surface. With the perfect amount of light, the contrast of red on white radiates energy and propels customers to drink up.
A Functional Example: Interior Design
If there is one thing that interior decorators know, it’s how to set a mood with color. Hire one, and after deciding on a color, the first thing they’ll ask is, “What’s the mood you’re going for?” The next thing they’ll do is create a color scheme to complement your central color choice in order to set that mood. After that, they look for fabrics, furniture, and accent pieces that fit into that color scheme.
You can think of your website the exact same way: whatever dominant color appears in your logo or a featured photo, it’s important to select the font, background, and accent colors that complement it in a strategic way. An interior designer can’t work without a color scheme, and your customer base, like it or not, will be driven by the subliminal effects of your brand colors on their minds. This is crucial since the goal of marketing is to drive sales by creating a vision in your target customer’s mind. Whether you’re sprucing up your office or creating a website, taking all aspects of color theory into consideration will help you tell your brand’s story more accurately when creating your new look.