Jen Napiorski, TEEM Art Director

When choosing colors for a brand project, we need to ask a lot of questions. We don’t just choose colors that look good together – there’s a lot more to it!

Have you ever thought about why designers choose the colors they do? Or why an account executive or client agrees with particular color choices? I’m the lead designer and art director here at TEEM, and in my opinion, the reasoning behind these choices is based on one clear thing: the emotions the colors make us feel. 

Colors are really emotional cues. Every color has both positive and negative emotions associated with it. As a designer, it’s important to be familiar with these color associations, so we can make the right choices for a particular brand.

This can sometimes be tricky. A color might cue a positive emotion for you when you’re in design mode, but a viewer could possibly feel the negative emotion of that color based on the amount, tone, etc. of the color.

So what are these emotion/color relationships, you ask? Allow me to really nerd out, and go through the good ol’ “ROY G BIV” that we all remember from elementary school. 

Breakdown of Color Relationships:

Red is a powerful, energizing color that could portray strength, love, power, and desire. This is an attention-grabbing choice, but be careful, because this well-known Valentine’s Day color could also show aggression if not demonstrated properly. But if you’re looking for an in-your-face choice, red might just fit the bill. This color reflects our human needs, whether that’s love and affection or fear and survival. It’s easy to see why this color is commonly used in the healthcare field, in horror films, or in marketing campaigns when celebrating love.

Orange was one of my favorite colors when I was growing up. This is interesting to me now as a designer, because now I know that orange is a mix of red’s strength and aggression, and yellow’s friendliness and fun. Kinda sounds like being a kid, doesn’t it? Orange is a known trigger for positive motivation. It brings a lot of comfort, with its warm and inviting tone. It’s often used when designing sports-related collateral, toys, and board games. 

Yellow is currently my favorite color. It completely encompasses what we all need (especially during these difficult times): happiness, optimism, and joy. Fun fact about yellow: it is the easiest color for our eyes to see. It is even the first color babies respond to! Yellow is a great color choice when the goal of the design is lifting spirits, inspiring others, and increasing confidence. If yellow is not used in moderation, however, it can trigger anxiety and instability. We have to find the balance of lifting each other up and motivating ourselves, rather than bringing ourselves down! Yellow is very commonly seen in window-front displays, creating inviting scenes for people to admire.

Green’s positive emotional connotations are health, environment, freshness, and newness. It also creates the feeling of growth – whether it’s monetary growth (don’t we all want growth in that?) or in our lovely houseplants we’re all trying not to kill. The negative emotions that potentially could be cued are envy, jealousy, and guilt. You’ll often notice green in marketing campaigns for the economic world, health-based stores, and restaurants. 

Blue has a soothing effect. It encourages our mind to calm down and de-stress. This universally-popular color evokes reliability, responsibility, and dependability. In marketing, blue helps to elevate the feeling of a positive and trustworthy relationship. On the negative side, blue can trigger feelings of cold and distance, so be careful not to overdo it. Like red, blue is also found throughout the medical field. You often see it in gyms and spas, as well. 

Purple often elevates the imagination and spirituality. It is the blend of red and blue, so it’s a combination of power and stability, showing a balance between the physical and spiritual realms. When you see “witchy” vibes in a brand, that company has probably paired black with some shade of purple, so you’ll see this color in a lot of magic and fairy tale products. Similar to blue, purple has soothing qualities, so you often see this color in luxury brands as well. 

Black is the color of sophistication and independence. Using black as a color in design can portray a modern, sleek, and opulent feeling. I think this is why we often find it used in professional attire (clothing color choices are design choices too!) and limos. Most limos are black, as are the brands surrounding luxury culture. If designers use too much black, it may communicate a feeling of negativity. 

Historically, white has always been used to symbolize purity and innocence. It also can convey a feeling of peace, simplicity, and creativity. I like to use white in a way that really gives the customer’s mind room to breathe, and come up with their own interpretation of the space. But when designers use too much white, the viewer’s brain might perceive a feeling of isolation rather than peace. You’ll often see lots of white used in web design, and in the wedding industry. 

So there we have it – the entire rainbow of colors, and the emotions that they spark inside of us. When thinking about designing a full brand, keep these notes in mind, and think beyond just the copy you’re using in your marketing materials. Color can be incredibly powerful, and it can help us send a clear company message across an entire brand.

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