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Nov 27, 2019

Creating a Logo: The Impact of Color


You’ve created a company. You have a company name. Now you need a logo. 

Logos serve as a great brand awareness tool. Think about popular logos. For example, the McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike check. Without seeing an image, most people can conjure up exactly what those two logos look like in their head. When creating a logo, there are a few basic design aspects to consider: color, font, and versioning. In this blog, we will discuss color (see future blogs for the additional aspects).

Consider colors (and backgrounds)

You may have heard that colors have meaning. Let’s go through some of those meanings. 

Red – You might be picturing a girl in an elegant red dress or a bright red Ferrari driving down the road. Red is exciting. Red is associated with love, speed, desire, passion, energy, danger, and power. These can all be great for brands and is commonly used in fast food logos (Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic Drive-In, etc.). Red also has negative connotations: anger, danger, stop, violence, and pain [1]. 

Orange – Orange, despite its tragic lack of rhyming counterparts, can be a great logo color. Orangetheory Fitness and HubSpot both use the color in their branding, which aligns well since orange represents energy, vitality, and enthusiasm. Conversely, orange can also represent frustration, deprivation, and sluggishness [1]. 

Yellow – Yellow is more than sunshine and daisies; this color can show optimism, happiness, joy, idealism, and hope. Some popular yellow brands include Hertz, National Geographic, Sprint, Snapchat, and IKEA. I suppose IKEA pictures happy customers browsing their arrow-guided aisles, rather than spouses arguing about whether to buy the Ashley or the Brittany end table. Yellow can also mean caution, anxiety, cowardice, and fear. For example, yellow was used in the logo for old game-show Fear Factor, in which contestants would complete stunts like lying in a tub of snakes [1]. 

Green – Think of Ireland: the rolling green hills and fresh air can make anyone feel lucky. Not surprisingly, green represents nature, freshness, spring, health, fertility, and good luck. In branding, green is often associated with nature-oriented, organic, and environmentally sustainable companies. Think of Animal Planet and Whole Foods. You might see green in the advertisements for Environmental Social Governance (ESG) investment portfolios and recyclable coffee cups. Green can also mean sickness, envy, misfortune, and inexperience [1]. 

Blue – PayPal, American Express, Bank of America, Visa, Citibank, Prudential Financial, Raymond James, Chase Bank, CapitalOne, and Goldman Sachs (all financial companies) use blue in their logos. Blue represents trust, loyalty, unity, security, conservatism, stability, and protection. And what industry plagued by a history of corrupt individuals (i.e. Bernie Madoff and Jordan Belfort) might want to show trustworthiness? You guessed it – the financial industry. Blue also represents peace, order, confidence, and cleanliness, which makes it a common color for technology brands, such as IBM, Samsung, AT&T, Intel, DirecTV, HP, Vimeo, Skype, and Dell. Though blue is effective for finance and tech, the color can be inappropriate for other industries as it is cold, unemotional, aloof, and unappetizing [1].  

Brown – Like green, brown can be associated with the outdoors, nature, trees, and earth, but the color also embodies reliability, comfort, stability, authenticity and simplicity. Think of the United Parcel Service (UPS) and Cracker Barrel. UPS wants you to trust your packages will arrive on time and Cracker Barrel wishes to be a dependable road trip stop. Brown can also seem unsophisticated, heavy, sad, and dirty [1].  

Black – “Bond. James Bond.” In a James Bond movie, or any typical spy movie, there is usually a scene at a black-tie party. The scene evokes feelings of sophistication, elegance, wealth, style, power, mystery and even some evil. Both the heroes and the antagonists wear black – tuxedos, suits, and long dresses. Black is used by many luxury brands, such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Estee Lauder, and Gucci to create the same feelings of elegance and wealth. Sophistication and power can also be associated in an athletic context. For example, Adidas and Nike use black in their branding [1]. The New Zealand All Blacks, the best rugby team in the world, sport black uniforms and are known for their sophisticated passing and powerful players. The team is also known for their pregame dance, The Haka, in which the players chant “Ka Mate Ka Mate” meaning “it is death, it is death” [2]. This provides the perfect Segway to some of the negative connotations of black, including death, grief, fear, mourning, sadness, and depression [1]. 

White – Last but not least, white represents simplicity, precision, cleanliness, innocence, virginity, youth, humility, and peace. Apple might be the most famous user of white in their logo, utilizing precision and simplicity as the cornerstones of their brand. The World Wildlife Fund’s black and white panda logo is another recognizable one. White can have negative connotations as well, such as coldness, sterility, isolation, emptiness, unfriendliness, and elitism [1]. 

These psychological meanings are based in Western culture and may differ for other cultures. Also, colors can have personal meaning, such as an association with a favorite sports team. Once in a design concept meeting, a client commented that the colors we selected were “Gator colors” (the blue and orange of University of Florida). This client, a graduate of University of Florida rival, garnet and gold Florida State University, associated blue and orange with a negative feeling based on personal experiences. That said, colors will have different meanings to different people, so consider your and your team’s personal biases. 

Another color factor is over-usage. Some industries use the same color too frequently. For example, blue in the financial industry described above. A few companies create logos that use different colors to stand out, for example Edward Jones uses yellow and black, which stands in stark contrast to their blue-covered industry. Rather than using green or brown environmental-oriented colors, The World Wildlife Fund uses white and black [3]. 

Consider backgrounds as well. White logos often necessitate a black or other dark background. How will you include your logo on a white piece of paper? Will it be outlined (like The White Company)? Will it have a dark-colored shape behind it (like Goldman Sachs)? Will you have a different color version for white backgrounds (like Apple)? Sometimes logos are put in front of different colors or even images. Experiment by placing your logo above different backgrounds and check to see if your logo stands out or blends into the background. Complementary colors (colors that appear on opposite sides of the color wheel) tend to stand out the best. For example, green is opposite red on the color wheel, so red stands out against green and vice versa. Also, analogous colors (adjacent on the color wheel) work well together. For example, purple next to blue tends to make blue look more, well blue. A great free tool to experiment with this is Adobe Color. 

All in all, color can have a big impact on the feelings elicited from your logo. Make sure to consider both the logo’s color and backgrounds in your design process.