A designers guide to choosing brand colours

A consistent brand colour palette increases brand recognition by 80%. Here's how a designer would pick your colours.



August 19, 2022

Episode 009 written in pink on a yellow background, beneath it colour palettes is written in a navy blue on a peach background
Episode 009 written in pink on a yellow background, beneath it colour palettes is written in a navy blue on a peach background

110% of conversations I have with business owners begin with them telling me they want to zhush up their brand. Whether it's from a visual aspect, a reputation aspect, or their business has changed so much that they feel awkward explaining their business to someone else.

It all points to getting the message right. This can be a tweak to the brand identity or a complete visual identity design alongside the strategy.

And, early doors in most businesses, we get hustled to get a brand identity. If your brands not on the gram or TikTok, you probably don't have a business.

They usually want something like this:

  1. Logos
  2. Colour palettes
  3. Fonts
  4. Additional graphics
  5. Social media graphics
  6. Website design

This, of course, is a stereotype, but the top 3 are the ones people want early on. They focus on the sexy part of the business first without understanding where they need to position themselves. This comes from the necessity to launch and generate money.

With programs like Canva and AI-generated logos, they can create logos in less than 5 minutes. Logos, fonts and colour palettes come together without too much heavy thinking, allowing them to get ahead.

Here's the kicker, 20,000 other brands just downloaded a near identical logo with a similar colour palette and font choice. 

Picking brand colours

This blog focuses on brand design and should help you choose your brand colours. 

The first step is to identify your direction. What's your brand trying to communicate, and to who?

You don't want to pluck colours from thin air, scroll Instagram, or look for trendy colour palettes. Trending colour palettes, such as Pantone's Colour of the Year, highlights a particular colour they think is topical – some of the previous colours have focused on things like sustainability.

As a result, a sway of new companies starts using the colour, even if it's not a good fit for the brand.

If you're picking colours from things you're seeing, there's a good chance it's coming from personal preference, which is ok, but it might not be what your customers resonate with the most or what makes you stand out from competitors.

Hypothetically, imagine you have a brand strategy for a clothes label. You know your ideal target market, understand your customer personas, have a clear brand personality, understand you're communicating feelings and want to be perceived by people in a certain way. You might have also looked at competitors to see what they do.

You design environmentally friendly, long-lasting clothing and put in all the hard work before diving into your visual identity. Your target market is women disgusted by fast fashion, who want to actively participate in saving the planet and save money by owning quality clothes that last a lot longer. The brand is backed by research and finding new ways to contribute to cleaning the oceans and supporting a brighter future. You want people to know that the brand is credible and that you test products and maintain high levels of quality control.

The goal is for people to consider their purchases and know where their clothes come from. There's no place for hesitancy when it comes to protecting the planet.

If we are looking at brand archetypes, it would be a mix of the sage and caregiver.

Words used to describe it are bold, radical, unforgiving, fearless.

What colours should be picked?

If it were me picking a colour palette for this brand, I'd first look at what its competitors do. This makes sure we aren't going to pick something identical. And helps make a final decision easier – remember, I want them to stand out, not blend in!

Competitors all use white, black, greys and sagey greens. Those really soft, clean-cut colours. One stood out using a blue and a red, but this seems a bit aggressive to me.

I'd look at the brand personality and words like fearless and radical to set it apart and mix that with the target market.

I'm leaning towards picking a solid core colour like a bright yellow – indicating a brighter future and complementing it with 1 or two colours like a hot pink as an accent. And perhaps a slightly toned back version of pink, with a hint of yellow. Finally, I'd choose two neutrals, a dark ocean greeny/blue colour and a crisp white.

Even if you pick a similar colour palette to a competitor, it's all about how it's applied – this will change the mood and feeling. Say they pick a complimentary colour of sage green and use it 10% of the time. You could reverse this and make it your core (primary) colour – using it, say 80%. Leaving space for other colours.

Tips to help you pick the right brand colours

  • Think about outlining the colours that the audience resonates with (if you're unsure, ask them). Think about how and where they are applied and in what proportion.
  • Don't forget, it's essential that you love your colours too. So, if you're not loving your marketing content and don't use your colours how they were designed, you might end up flipping them and breaking the consistency you're aiming for.
  • You'll start losing out on all that squishy brand recognition and undoing all the hard work you put in. A consistent colour palette increases brand recognition by up to 80%.
  • Be careful too. Certain brands have colours nailed down – Cadburys trademarked the exact purple they use. Fast food chains use reds to signal hunger cues. But even smaller brands can start owning colours if they consistently use the same one.
  • If a brand in your industry is known by a particular colour, it's a good idea to look at different options or flip that round.
  • The audience's state of mind plays a big role. For instance, if you're a yoga studio trying to instil calmness of mind or balance, you probably wouldn't want to introduce bright, bold colours or patterns.
  • Culture can also impact the meaning and interpretation of colour, so make sure you are being sensitive, so you don't offend people. This is important if you intend to make your products and services available globally. In Japan, purple represents power and wealth, but in Thailand, it's the colour worn by widows.
  • If you're struggling to pick your colours, work on eliminating colours first, as I know this helps me when I am struggling.

Choosing colours will be much simpler if you are clear on your strategy.

Episode 009 written in pink on a yellow background, beneath it colour palettes is written in a navy blue on a peach background

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Episode 009 written in pink on a yellow background, beneath it colour palettes is written in a navy blue on a peach background