The “Psychology of Color” Myth & How to Choose Brand Colors

What's the deal with colors? Are they inherently occupying some emotional space? How should you use colors in branding? Let's dive in.


Color is a great way to distinguish you from the competition, but you have to be incredibly intentional about how you make your selection.

The “Psychology of Color” is a Myth

This is a great place to start this conversation—myth busting.

There is a common misconception that color evokes the same emotion for you as it does for me. This, however, is untrue.

For as long as the stars have been in the sky, the general idea of colors in branding was that everyone feels the same way when they look at certain shades, patterns and hues.

Most people believe the standard idea that pale shades of yellow and blue are soothing while black and red are colors of command and can be abrasive. Recent studies have shown this to be untrue. Experts are saying that my feelings of hatred towards every hue of yellow may not translate to how you feel about it. In fact, responses will vary based on your upbringing, personal preference and the like.

Why Color is Important and Shouldn’t Gone About Lightly

Why is color important in branding? It may seem like a small piece in the branding process, but it is a key player in the branding process with a tremendous impact.

Color is fundamental because it can make or break you. It sounds drastic and over-exaggerated, but when you think about it, your brand is going to be directly associated with the scheme you choose. Think of everything that’s effected—your marketing materials, your storefront, your product and anything else you invest time into developing. This isn’t something to take likely.

As a further testament to the importance of color, note the picture below (done by Brazilian designer, Paula Rúpolo).


If colors of the Starbucks brand were switched with those of Dunkin Donuts, a different result would’ve be produced altogether.

Yuck—it doesn’t look right, does it? In it’s current state, you would most likely reject both of these now-forever-famous logos. The reason for this is simple—the correct font and color scheme are not being used. The logos need the right color uses to work properly.

This just goes to show you how powerful color can be and how it impacts even the most masterfully design logos.

What To Do Before Choosing Colors (read carefully)

One of the biggest mistakes in any branding endeavor is using the visual design (colors, fonts, logo, patterns) as the starting point. This is a dangerous decision. By doing so, you could miss the mark entirely with the brand you’re creating (or recreating).

Go Through the Branding Process

The branding process goes as follows:

  1. Narrative Discovery and Solidification
  2. Naming and Brand Copywriting
  3. Visual Identity Design
  4. Marketing Tools, Assets and Brand Ambassadors

Understand Who You Are and Who Your Audience Is

Kick it back to the beginning with the Narrative Discovery and Solidification first and foremost:

  • Who are you?
  • Who is your ideal customer?
  • Where are you going?
  • What do you want to convey?

In order to create a fully functioning brand, you need to know who you are and what your audience wants.

Only when you do that can you properly tell your story through the use of color, font and patterns.

Choosing a Color Scheme

So you’ve gone through Steps 1 and 2. Now, and only now, are you fully equipped to build the visual identity.

This step is different for everyone, but there are some general tips that anyone can benefit from. It’s impossible for us to give you the perfect advice to pick your color set. Our advice is to let the process guide you to the right result.

Here, however, are some tips that will help you choose a brand color scheme.

60-30-10 Rule

Most designers use the 60-30-10 rule. Experts suggest choosing three colors then using them in the ratio 60%,30% and 10%. By doing this, you will be eliminating the possibility of producing a clustered and unprofessional result. Using this rule can reduce a lot of unnecessary stress.

Analyze Your Competition

Check out the work of your competition.

The key to this part of the process is to find colors that make you stand apart in your field. Most markets are saturated, so you’re looking for any place where you can make a distinction.

Create Intentionally

While you are working on the color part of the process, keep your content in mind and choose with purpose.

If your company culture is one that promotes environmental change, then think about what color combinations will send that message to your audience. What does your audience want to see and how do they react to the content of your competitors? Could you be doing something different?

Leveraging Colors in Branding

Once you’ve selected, vetted and finalized your colors, it’s time for the next leg of the journey.

Just because you have your final colors doesn’t mean that your team or partners are going to utilize them properly.

Formalize Them in a Style Guide

I can’t stress it enough—you need to have your colors formalized in a style guide. Indicate the ordering of them from primary to secondary to accents.

You also need to provide detailed instructions on how each color is utilized. Where are they used? In what order? What goes where?

Also include the Hex code, Pantone and RGB numbers. This will help designers, printers and everyone in between pin-point the right and exact hue of your brand color.

Keep An Eye on How Your Team is Using Colors

Consistency in branding is key to maintaining an effective visual identity.

Even with your brand guidelines in mind, be sure that your appointed brand spearhead keeps an eye on everything going out. Organizations have a tendency to start going off into all kinds of directions. It’s up to the branding spearhead to keep an eye and make sure people are using the right hues in the right ways.

Questions on colors in the branding process? Sound off below.

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