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A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

That's just not my (team) color: red and gold

Nyla Smith | Friday, June 03, 2011

"Well those are too close to Redskins colors, soo....let's go with this one instead." This was a comment a client (apparently not a Redskins fan) made after I had presented some color options for his new logo design.

Ah, the good ol' red and gold (or shades thereof) combination. 

Well, whenever someone is developing an identity, or wanting a logo, colors inevitably come up as a part of that consideration (normally limited to two colors). And while everybody wants something unique, they quickly find out there are not many two-color combinations that aren't already in use, somewhere in the world (particularly in the sports world). 

It turns out the the Washington Redskins are not the only organization that uses hues of red and yellow. Let's take a look at some familiar faces:



Arizona State University University of Southern California


DHL Emerald Nuts


McDonald's
Bojangles


MasterCard
Superman

Your branding, or subsequent projects, should not be based solely on a personal color preference. Of course, if you just don't like it, well...you just don't like it. But, it should be considered carefully. There's a science behind color perception. Just as important, there are associations that we have with colors. These associations are meaningful; they're defined by psychology, society, and culture; and oftentimes they run so deep we don't even consciously realize them.

Associations with the color red

Pure red is the most intense, high-energy color, and is considered a stimulant. It can represent love, passion, anger, dominance, danger. It automatically demands your attention (think stop lights and stop signs).

Associations with the color yellow

Yellow often represents happiness, optimism, and fun. It is also a high energy color (pure yellow, especially). Notice that you'll rarely see pure yellow used alone in a company logo, for the simple reason that it can be hard to see unless placed against a dark background. You are more likely to see deeper shades of yellow with more orange in them (like gold).

This is an interesting visualization of color associations across various cultures/regions. (Did you know that in the Chinese culture, red is associated with fertility?)

How to find the right colors for you

One strategy I employ when starting to consider color choices for a logo, for example, is to list adjectives or phrases that describe the organization or event that the logo will be used to represent, as well as the target audience. Young, hip, energetic? At least one bright, saturated, unconventional color may be appropriate. Conservative, well-established, elegant? Think deep, rich jewel tones. Want to convey strength, resilience, and trustworthiness? Blue would be appropriate. And if you want to assert dominance, high energy, or passion? Yeah, red could be a great color.

Well, this is where it can sometimes get tricky...when you know you want to use one particular color, but don't know what to pair it with. As I mentioned, you will be hard-pressed to find a color combination that hasn't been used before (especially if you're trying to stay fairly conservative). Because there are certain colors that "just look good" together, they may already be widely used. For example, you'll find complementary colors—those opposite each other on the color wheel— paired up often. This means red/green, blue/orange, and purple/yellow combinations. When determining color combinations to use, I believe it is important to have a general understanding of color theory, however, one can always just look around for inspiration (nature is a great source), and there are even helpful online resources, like this tool for generating color palettes.

If red and gold are colors that represent your brand perfectly, but you hesitate to use them simply because they remind you of a bad experience you had at McDonald's, well, that's a problem. But here's what I think. I think there is always a color combination that can represent you that, while maybe not being completely unique in this world, can help you to stand out. It can stand out by being a combination that is rarely seen, or by using a pop of color in an unconventional manner, or using varying shades of the colors. And always remember, your organization's colors do not define you, they simply help to communicate something about you. It's only one piece of the puzzle, not the whole shebang.

I enjoy working with color. I love how expressive it can be on its own. I enjoy finding underutilized combinations, those that are not obvious, but still end up working together cohesively. If you want to use red, well guess what...there are many many variations of red, as represented in the logos above. You may find two reds that work well together (cardinal and maroon). Or pair it with a neutral (gray, brown, black). Or pair it with another analogous color (a warm shade of purple, perhaps). Vary the intensities and values (deep red with a pale orange). There are lots of options. However, I will say this... it shouldn't look forced. If it turns out that red and gold really is the combination that's right for you, don't shy away from it just because you don't like the Redskins. If you look long enough, there will always be someone else using similar colors as you. The thing to remember is that there are other factors that set you apart. Taken as a whole, your branding, your project, will always be uniquely you.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 12 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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