Choosing Colours

The corporate colour scheme you choose makes a strong statement about your company, and how it does business.

Studies have shown that colour increases brand recognition by up to 80%. This is because colour stimulates the memory, and is very effective when combined with a recognizable shape or symbol.

Since you’re more likely a business person than an artist, here are some helpful tips on picking the right palette for your logo.

For your corporate logo, look for colours that:

Convey a positive message: Think about the colours of your industry. While black is great in sales, it’s seen as a depressing colour in much of the rest of society. Green is great for a lawn service, bad for a bakery. Choose the colours that represent the best of your work. Brainstorm by writing out the names of colours then writing beneath them the things they represent in your business. Choose from the best of those to create a positive feel for your corporate logo.

Convey the feel of your work: Think about the energy and emotions of your business and try to find a palette that reflects them. A high-energy business is most likely to go with bright or neon colours, while a more muted business, like a funeral home, might choose a softer look.

You enjoy: Go with your own style. You’ll have to live and work with your logo the most, so it should please you first and foremost. These colours also reflect more about you than you realise, so you will be revealing the character of your business in the process and speak to potential customers about who you are.

You wear: Nothing says professional like a coordinated colour palette. Think about uniforms and your own personal wardrobe, especially if you work one-on-one with customers often. If both your logo and your attire use colours that reflect the attitude of your business, they will work to reinforce each other and create a stronger impression on your potential and current customers.

Match or complement each other: Look around at what colours you put together in your home or in your outfits. Choosing a clashing colour combination will reflect poorly on your business, while choosing coordinating colours will provide a more pleasant image for your customer. Don’t put two bold colours together. That will make your logo too harsh on the eyes.

Contrast each other: Think about many popular colour combinations: the Red and White of Target, the red and green of Christmas. These colours are complete opposites. When you use colours that contrast each other, you can create an attractive and clear logo while only using two colours.


Warm colours include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colours. These are the colours of fire, of autumn leaves, and of sunsets and sunrises, and are generally energizing, passionate, and positive.

Red and yellow are both primary colours, with orange falling in the middle, which means warm colours are all truly warm and aren’t created by combining a warm colour with a cool colour. Use warm colours in your designs to reflect passion, happiness, enthusiasm, and energy.

Red (Primary Colour)

Red is a very hot colour. It’s associated with fire, violence, and warfare. It’s also associated with love and passion. In history, it’s been associated with both the Devil and Cupid. Red can actually have a physical effect on people, raising blood pressure and respiration rates. It’s been shown to enhance human metabolism, too.

Red can be associated with anger, but is also associated with importance (think of the red carpet at awards shows and celebrity events). Red also indicates danger (the reason stop lights and signs are red, and that most warning labels are red).

Outside the western world, red has different associations. For example, in China, red is the colour of prosperity and happiness. It can also be used to attract good luck. In other eastern cultures, red is worn by brides on their wedding days. In South Africa, however, red is the colour of mourning. Red is also associated with communism. Red has become the colour associated with AIDS awareness in Africa due to the popularity of the [RED] campaign.

In design, red can be a powerful accent colour. It can have an overwhelming effect if it’s used too much in designs, especially in its purest form. It’s a great colour to use when power or passion want to be portrayed in the design. Red can be very versatile, though, with brighter versions being more energetic and darker shades being more powerful and elegant.

Red is a very intense and hot colour. It is often used to represent heat, passion, excitement, speed and strength. Red literally ‘shouts’. Use it to attract attention and importance. It also signifies courage, bravery, danger, war and energy. Therefore use red to promote energy drinks, cars (Ferrari red), lipsticks, passionate love (Cupid), and dangerous or extreme sports.

Orange (Secondary Colour)

Orange is a very vibrant and energetic colour. In its muted forms, it can be associated with the earth and with autumn. Because of its association with the changing seasons, orange can represent change and movement in general.

Because orange is associated with the fruit of the same name, it can be associated with health and vitality. In designs, orange commands attention without being as overpowering as red. It’s often considered more friendly and inviting, and less in-your-face.

Orange is a warm, citrus colour, and represents health, vibrancy, sunshine and the tropics. Orange creates a stimulating, vibrant, fun and exciting environment. It is the combination of red and yellow. It is an effective colour to promote healthy food, drinks, toys and youth products.

Yellow (Primary Colour) 

Yellow is often considered the brightest and most energizing of the warm colours. It’s associated with happiness and sunshine. Yellow can also be associated with deceit and cowardice, though (calling someone yellow is calling them a coward).

Yellow is also associated with hope, as can be seen in some countries when yellow ribbons are displayed by families who have loved ones at war. Yellow is also associated with danger, though not as strongly as red.

In some countries, yellow has very different connotations. In Egypt, for example, yellow is for mourning. In Japan, it represents courage, and in India it’s a colour for merchants.

In your designs, bright yellow can lend a sense of happiness and cheerfulness. Softer yellows are commonly used as a gender-neutral colour for babies (rather than blue or pink) and young children. Light yellows also give a more calm feeling of happiness than bright yellows. Dark yellows and gold-hued yellows can sometimes look antique and be used in designs where a sense of permanence is desired.

Yellow is the colour of happiness, excitement, energy and cheerfulness. Yellow is another attention grabbing colour. Use it with red and you have a powerful head-turning colour scheme (like Shell). Deep, bright yellow is the colour of royalty, honour and loyalty. Yellow also attracts children and is the colour often used for toys, and kindergarten buildings. It is also the colour use for emergency and hazard situation; used in radioactive materials, fire trucks, rescue vehicles (AA), tow trucks, tractors, and bulldozers.


Brown is also another colour that represents nature, as it is the colour of land and trees. As such it invokes a comfort, homeliness feeling It is best used for restaurants, natural or antique furniture companies, and outdoor activities products. Light brown or cream is suitable for food products as it is the colour of wheat, flour, spaghetti and potatoes. Combined with green, then it can effectively promote a recycling or earth-friendly organisations / products.


Cool colours include green, blue, and purple, are often more subdued than warm colours. They are the colours of night, of water, of nature, and are usually calming, relaxing, and somewhat reserved.

Blue is the only primary colour within the cool spectrum, which means the other colours are created by combining blue with a warm colour (yellow for green and red for purple). Greens take on some of the attributes of yellow, and purple takes on some of the attributes of red. Use cool colours in your designs to give a sense of calm or professionalism.

Green (Secondary Colour)

Green is a very down-to-earth colour. It can represent new beginnings and growth. It also signifies renewal and abundance. Alternatively, green can also represent envy or jealousy, and a lack of experience.

Green has many of the same calming attributes that blue has, but it also incorporates some of the energy of yellow. In design, green can have a balancing and harmonising effect, and is very stable. It’s appropriate for designs related to wealth, stability, renewal, and nature. Brighter greens are more energizing and vibrant, while olive greens are more representative of the natural world. Dark greens are the most stable and representative of affluence.

Green is associated with money, environmental, wealth, nature, health, freshness and loyalty. Green is very relaxing to the eye and is the colour of nature. It is also the colour of peace and harmony. Dark green is very popular with financial and banking companies. Light, olive green can be used to promote products based on nature and healing qualities.

Blue (Primary Colour)

Blue is often associated with sadness in the English language. Blue is also used extensively to represent calmness and responsibility. Light blues can be refreshing and friendly. Dark blues are more strong and reliable. Blue is also associated with peace, and has spiritual and religious connotations in many cultures and traditions (for example, the Virgin Mary is generally depicted wearing blue robes).

The meaning of blue is widely affected depending on the exact shade and hue. In design, the exact shade of blue you select will have a huge impact on how your designs are perceived. Light blues are often relaxed and calming. Bright blues can be energizing and refreshing. Dark blues are excellent for corporate sites or designs where strength and reliability are important.

Blue is the favourite corporate colour. And it is a favourite for a reason. The characteristics most commonly associated with blue are authority, security, intelligence, coolness and reliability. As you can see, that is why it is a popular colour.

The reason is blue is the colour of the sky and sea. It generates feelings of peace, calmness and tranquillity, the same feeling that you’ll experience being at a beautiful beach. If you choose deep blue (colours of the ocean), other qualities associated with it are serious, naval, academic and analytical. If you want a cool, soothing colour, you would do well to choose light blue. It gives a feeling of freshness, clean and calmness. The best companies to use blue are airlines, airport, air conditioners, breath freshener, mineral water, cruises and seaports. Blue is also a favourite colour among males, and is regarded as a ‘masculine’ colour.

It works well with a lot of pastel colours, and with careful skill can be used to calm a bright red scheme. Successful red and blue combinations are the American flag and Superman…. If you look carefully there’s always a third colour around to ‘bridge’ these two opposite colours effectively. Neutral colours work best here (white and yellow).

Purple (Secondary Colour)

Purple was long associated with royalty. It’s a combination of red and blue, and takes on some attributes of both. It’s associated with creativity and imagination, too.

In Thailand, purple is the colour of mourning for widows. Dark purples are traditionally associated with wealth and royalty, while lighter purples (like lavender) are considered more romantic.

In design, dark purples can give a sense wealth and luxury. Light purples are softer and are associated with spring and romance.

Lavender (and often Pink) often brings to mind femininity, innocence, romance and health. It is very effective to promote products or services to women, such as exclusive spa for women, beauty products, lingerie, and perfume.



White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the colour of perfection.White means safety, purity, and cleanliness. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.

In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it’s the colour of snow. You can use white to suggest simplicity in high-tech products. White is an appropriate colour for charitable organizations; angels are usually imagined wearing white clothes. White is associated with hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you can use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products. White is often associated with low weight, low-fat food, and dairy products.


Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.

Black is a mysterious colour associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humour, ‘black death’). Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious colour (black tie, black Mercedes). In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief.

Black gives the feeling of perspective and depth, but a black background diminishes readability. A black suit or dress can make you look thinner. When designing for a gallery of art or photography, you can use a black or gray background to make the other colours stand out. Black contrasts well with bright colours. Combined with red or orange – other very powerful colours – black gives a very aggressive colour scheme.

Grey or Silver

Grey evokes conservative, depressing and moody feelings. Silver however represents technology, cutting edge, machines, and richness and elegance. Therefore, it is not surprising to see most high-tech companies uses a combination of silver and blue.


How long is the design expected to last?

Logos and corporate identities should expect to look fresh for many years, even decades after their creation. On the other hand, a publication which is issued seasonally (like a store catalogue) may want to change its look and feel with each new issue and is more likely to be inspired by changing fashions in colour schemes.

What tone are you seeking to convey through the design?

Colour plays a major role in establishing the tone of a design. Earthy tones suggest warmth, while blue can indicate professionalism and trustworthiness. A bright colour scheme evokes playfulness, while high contrast colours are very dynamic. Certain colour schemes can also be very trendy for a period of time; their use suggests a fashionable edge to a design.

Who’s taking notice?

Colour is vitally important when designing for a select audience or market. Older people have trouble reading text against a low-contrast background. Certain colour combinations appeal more to men, others more to women (and don’t assume that pink is automatically a colour you should choose when designing for women!). Even children vary in their response to certain colour combinations depending on their age. It’s also handy to keep in mind that a small proportion of the population is colour-blind and may have difficulty distinguishing certain colours from each other.

What is the competition doing?

The designer’s job is to make the client stand out from their competitors, and a carefully chosen colour scheme is one option for achieving this. A good designer will always conduct research into their client’s market and competition before committing to any design concepts; comparing colour schemes is an important part of that research.

By now I usually have at least one or two colours in mind, but might need to do some more work on selecting the exact shades, or additional colours for the palette. This is where colour tools can be extremely handy. I frequently use Kuler by Adobe and ColourLovers for their speed and vast library of colour palettes to get ideas from.