Marks of a Successful Color Palette

Baker Street Digital Media


One of my graphic design professors once said the difference between a good designer and a great designer is how they use color. The longer I’ve designed, the more truth I’ve found in that statement. Color is perhaps the design element that most touches all people’s lives. Before children can read or sometimes even speak, we teach them about color. And at that early age, they begin to form opinions about and make other associations with color. “I like the color red, but I don’t like the color brown. The color pink is girly. The color yellow is the color of the sun.”

And these opinions about and associations with color only multiply into adulthood. Since people have such a lifelong relationship with color, it is reasonable to deduce that it has a significant role in the day to day decisions that they make. This makes color a pivotal design element. It is crucial that the design that represents your brand uses color well. Not sure whether or not your color palette is doing its job? Here are three marks of a successful color palette.
1. It reflects your brand’s personality.
Color is a crucial opportunity to display your brand’s unique visual identity. People often associate different colors with different feelings and ideas. Cool blues are associated with trust, honesty and dependability. Greens make people think of freshness, growth and nature. Orange is quirky, energetic and warm. Is your brand an expensive luxury? Try a shade of purple. Bright colors represent bold or playful brands. Pastels and more muted colors reflect a serious or sophisticated brand. Oodles of color choices provide the opportunity to ensure your brand is represented as true as it can be.
2. The colors within the palette work together harmoniously.

Merriam-Webster defines harmony as “to be combined or go together in a pleasing way.” A mark of a successful color palette is that it is visually pleasing. The three properties that affect whether or not a group of colors work together in a pleasing way are hue, value and saturation. Hue refers to what we often talk about as colors. It is the different swatches on the color wheel. Red, blue, green, and purple are all different hues. Value of a color refers to how light or dark a color is. If a color is very light, we say that it has high-value. Darker colors are said to have low-value. And finally, a color’s saturation refers to how bright or dull the color is. Two colors can have the same hue and value, but different saturation and result in two very different colors. There is no magic formula for creating a harmonious color palette, but these properties are helpful to know in combining colors together in a visually pleasing way.

3. It sets you apart from your competitors.

What do Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, Checker’s, Hardee’s, Sonic and Popeyes all have in common? The same blinding ketchup red and bright mustard yellow. Default setting red and yellow have become the monotonous choice of America’s fast food restaurants. All these restaurants are examples of businesses whose identical color palettes cause them to visually blend together. There is no unique idea or voice that rises above the competition. It is not necessarily smart or practical to avoid using any variation of any color that has ever been used by your competitor ever. However, it wise to have a general idea of your competitions’ color palettes and to avoid any glaring industry cliches.

Color is often the design element that sticks with people even if they can’t remember your logo or slogan. For this reason it is crucial that your color palette successfully performs its job of shining your unique identity to the world.

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