Color Theory is Essential for Marketing Designers of All Skill Levels

Designing anything with color – logos, ads, banners, newsletters, business cards, websites – can be overwhelming for anyone, whether it’s your profession or just a hobby. But once you understand the basics of color theory, you can start to uncover and master the mechanics and tricks of the trade. Having a strong grasp of color theory makes all the difference in branding, design, content creation and any marketing tactic that requires a visual element.

It’s a vast topic to cover in the space I have, so this rambling dyslexic won’t try to explain a concept that can easily fill whole college semesters. Instead, allow me to direct your attention to this short video that does an amazing job of covering the use of color in design in a way even hobbyists can understand.

Even though it’s pretty basic, that video goes over a lot of the basic concepts and terminology you’ll need to follow along in conversations about color theory in design. So now that you’re on the level, I’m going to let you into my head and share my process for picking a color palette for branding.

Know what you want from your colors and you can’t go wrong

Knowing where, how and for whom you’ll use color is the most important part of selecting a palette, so always start with research first. Check out the environment where these colors will be used. Is it for a brand that has a lot of competition? Is there a certain standard or pattern to which brands in that industry tend to conform, and do you want yours to blend in with others? Where will these colors actually be used (e.g., in a logo, on a website, on a business card, on a van, on a building)?

Optimally, color is used to elicit certain emotions and responses from viewers (pastels and warmer colors connote a calmer feeling, brighter hues carry more energy and excitement, etc.), so determine what reaction you want your audience to feel when picking out the colors you’ll be using. Choose colors that align with that desired emotion, and then go outside the color pallet for inspiration or a unique twist.

Color possibilities are endless – so restrain yourself

Which leads me to my next point: When picking colors, start with just one main color. Add monochromatic colors (very close to the original hue) or analogous colors (from the same side of the color wheel) to fill it out, then pick one or two more complementary colors (from the opposite side of the color wheel) for contrast. Because they stick out from the monochromatic and analogous base, complementary colors can direct the viewer’s eye toward the elements you determine are most important for capturing attention.

Side note: Bob Ross was really good at selecting colors judiciously based on what he envisioned from a finished piece. Here’s proof:

Once you’ve selected between three and six colors, you’ve hit the sweet spot. Great color design is often built on the 60-30-10 rule: Use your primary color for 60% of the design (the majority), your secondary color for 30% (support) and your contrasting color for 10% (accent).

When using color in marketing, it’s all about delineating a hierarchy of importance by utilizing color’s ability to direct attention and elicit emotion within a design. The result will help readability, create the desired feeling around the brand, and communicate your message the way you want it seen.

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Trevor Nolte

A natural-born leader and Eagle Scout, Trevor has an incredible wit and an insatiable curiosity. His talents in graphic design, brand identity, multimedia design, illustrations and art production make SCG’s clients shine. With more than 18 years […] Read Bio »

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