What's in a Color?


Color-question.pngEver go into a "super store" and find yourself stymied because there are too many options?

Color can sometimes be like that. Just go to your average hardware store and watch the people in the paint department. You'll see some walk away with nothing but a frustrated, confused expression. Others will walk away with stacks of swatches and books. While still others will purchase multiple paint samples resigned to living with odd miss-matched blotches and stripes in their rooms because they just can't decide.

Even as professionals who regularly deal with color, I fully understand the dilemma. But, color can be understood in several different ways, and that understanding can at least narrow down the field.

Color as "Heat"

All colors can be defined as either "hot" or "cold." The designation originated from general feeling that most people got when they viewed it. So for example, with "hot" colors we generally think of reds, oranges and yellows. When it comes to "cold" colors we tend to think of different blues.

But any color can be "hot" or "cold." Even though blue is a natively "cold" color, there are some hues and shades that contain some yellows and reds, giving the blue a warmer feel. By that same token, a red can be "cold" for the same reason, with red or yellow tones mixed in to the hue.

Note that I haven't labeled greens or purples as "hot" or "cold." That's because those colors can very easily and cleanly be either. As pigments those colors are created by mixing other colors together, so they are natively neither "hot" or "cold" but can easily be hot or cold depending on the mix.

The "Feeling" of Color

Colors are often associated with feelings and emotions. But one color can evoke opposite feelings. Green, for example, can be associated with new life and growth and illness and poison. So what is the difference?

The key to expressing feeling and emotion with color is in the context in which it is used. So when used with a leaf, a green will communicate "spring" but used in a face it will say "illness."

Conversely, color can define the meaning/feeling of a shape as well. Take the leaf for example. The leaf shape in green will say "spring" but a leaf in red will say "fall."

Whittling Down Your Options

Great. So now we know a few more technical things about color. How do you choose which one to pick?

1. Look at your context. What do you want to say and how do you want people to feel? Is it a winter promotion? You might want colder colors. Is it an "escape from winter" promotion? You'll want warmer colors then.

2. Does it work with your brand? Keep in mind that your logo has to look good on top of or next to the color.

If you are in the process of creating a brand, think about in terms of your industry. Is the color you're considering ever associated with other people, businesses or concepts within your field?

3. Do you like it? Yes, this question is a little odd. But ultimately, you should at least on a basic level, not hate the colors that you are using in your branding and marketing. So if you hate the colors that are being used, then try out different shades and hues – or even different colors – until you find something that you'd be proud to show off!

This is all just the tip of a very colorful iceberg, but at least its a place to begin. Ultimately, don't be afraid to try color because you might be wrong, but rather have fun and play with it so that you'll find the ones that are right!