Composition, color, and light are just a few of the factors that come into play when our brains evaluate something visual. Every detail has some influence, depending on the context, on our love of design, art, and imagery. Color plays an especially important role, however — it’s one of the first things our brains process when we register an image. So it’s no wonder companies put so much thought into choosing the right brand colors that work for best them.

Whether you’re working on a major rebrand or just getting started at a new company, the impact that choosing the best color for your logo and brand guidelines can make a huge difference. In order to understand how an audience will see your brand, you might want to first consider the way your viewers will interpret different colors.

Red

Different countries have different meanings for the color red, but in general, it makes us feel energized, passionate, powerful, strong, and quick. Red also tends to garner an association with blood, which gives it a little bit of intensity. It demands attention and can stop the viewer in their tracks, prompting a moment of careful thought.

What’s most interesting about this color is just how often it’s seen in logos and advertisements every day. CNN, Coca Cola, and Pinterest all use red in their logos, for example, showcasing some common brand themes across three very different companies. These brands all convey, in one way or another, that their product holds the keys to ultimate success. CNN gives the power to learn, Pinterest provides the power to create, and Coca-Cola offers the power to have fun, with empowering brand messages and an iconic red logo.

Orange

Orange is another bright hue that brings both vibrance and balance to a project. Like red, it demands attention, but it’s little more muted than the primary color, and therefore feels less aggressive.

Because of its association with fruit, orange is often seen in drink logos. Fanta and Crush are both good examples — fun drinks associated with the orange flavor. But orange’s tone can also be subtly seen in the Amazon logo, which is entirely black and white, except for a smiling orange arrow that connects A to Z. It’s not as bold or brash as red would be, but it still catches your eye and gives off a warm feeling.

Yellow

Many colors can have conflicting meanings, and that’s especially true when it comes to yellow. While the bright color has some positive associations, like joy, sunshine, summer, and happiness, there are also negative connotations. In some parts of the world, yellow is linked to illness, jealousy, and hazard.

Companies that use yellow in a positive way include McDonald’s, Nikon, and National Geographic. Each of these companies is very different, but all share a brand color that suggests they bring joy to consumers’ lives.

Green

Green is sometimes associated with “go,” especially in American culture, because of traffic lights. But on a global scale, brands tend to use green in their logos if they’re environmentally inclined, representing values of health, wellness, nature, and renewal. Green is commonplace in natural food markets and agriculture-related products, with brands like Whole Foods and John Deere adopting emerald-hued logos.

Blue

If you want to inspire calmness and tranquility, think blue. Its strong associations with the ocean (relaxing ocean sounds) and meditation (channeling the blue light that some say equates to enlightened thinking) make blue the perfect color for brands that want to bring serenity to a stressful process.

That’s why we often see banks and financial companies — like Chase and Visa, for example — with logos that incorporate the color blue. If a customer is going to make a monetary transaction, their subconscious association with the financial institution should at least feel calm and worry-free. Even if the transaction itself is a little more stressful.

Purple

If nobility or wisdom is the vibe you’re going for, purple is the best way to achieve it. Not only is it most commonly known as the color of royalty, but it also denotes imaginative, creative behavior.

Brands like Yahoo and Cadbury use purple as the background for their logos, and both brands are instantly recognizable to their consumers. Yahoo, on the one hand, goes for the wisdom connotation, with tools that provide both knowledge (Internet search) and inspiration. Meanwhile, Cadbury — whose founders once supplied their products to England’s Queen Victoria — embraces the royal connotations of its history with a rich purple hue.

Black & White

Black and white are often used against each other, with black denoting mystery and sophistication, and white claiming cleanliness and purity. But when combined, they create balance.

Cartoon Network effectively uses black and white to create a simple, balanced logo, with the two shades showing the yin and yang of the brand name itself. “Network” on it’s own conveys sophistication and can even feel stuffy, but when combined with the lighthearted “Cartoon,” it plays on the balance of two opposite ideas — a concept that’s also seen in the design of the brand’s black-and-white logo.

Considering the emotional value and meaning behind a color can do wonders for your brand, and it can make or break a logo. It’s easier to work with simple colors, and the impact of a strong and consistent hue will help to make your brand memorable. (Plus there’s nothing worse than a crowded or confusing logo!) Keep it simple and stick to just one or two well-thought-out colors.

See all the colorful images used in this post in our “Brands & Color” collection »

color-brands-screenshot

For more color theory and inspiration, check out the stories below: