Did you know that color is all in your head? It’s hard for people to grasp that color exists in our minds, a consequence of how we physically process light energy with our eyes. But just because color is ephemeral doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential – ideas are intangible too, and they change the world every day.
Color and logo design express the essence of a brand with varying degrees of effectiveness. As far as it’s possible to make a definitive statement about how color and design should be applied in the service of brand communication, this is good advice: Keep it simple.
Simplicity is behind a recent brand retooling – HootSuite’s shift from a colorful owl logo to a sleeker monochromatic version. The new logo conveys a more sophisticated, grown-up image, which is in keeping with the growing social media management brand’s marketplace position. The stripped-down design and simple black-and-white color scheme also make the HootSuite logo easier to reproduce, eliminating the color management issues that can plague more colorful brand logos in reproduction.
What subtle message does the new and simple logo convey? “Our solution is simple to use.” Apple, one of the world’s most valuable brands, made a similar statement when the company shed its busy, colorful rainbow apple design in favor of the current simple grey apple symbol. As a brand icon, “it just works,” in the tech giant’s language.
Simplicity is good, but it needn’t be confined to grayscale. When thinking about iconic brands, many people would cite Ford’s blue oval or Starbucks’ stylized green and white mermaid. Starbucks’ original logo was brown, to evoke the color of their original product, coffee beans. But the deep green logo color clearly works for Starbucks, which has grown from a Seattle bean roaster and retailer to a global java juggernaut with nearly 13,000 outlets in the US alone.
In addition to simplicity, what should brands look for in a color scheme? It depends on what core message the company wants to convey. Red is an attention-getter that is a favorite of many high-profile brands, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nabisco and Target. We’re conditioned to pay attention to red – it’s the color of stop signs worldwide, after all. Yet, appropriateness of color is also important. While red may be attention getting, it can also carry negative connotations when associated with sensitive concepts, like communism for example. Not paying attention to the feelings that come with color can result in expensive and often embarrassing problems. So, consider color meaning in different cultures when you execute your brand communications.
Green is so inextricably associated with nature that the word itself has been drafted into the sustainability cause and used to embody political parties that focus on environmental issues. Brands that want to convey the idea that they sell natural, earthy or healthy products often choose green, including John Deere, Green Giant and Whole Foods.
The other primary color, yellow, is often associated with happiness; this was true long before the ubiquitous smiley face logo made its familiar appearance in the 1960s. Many leading fast food and quick service restaurants incorporate cheerful shades of yellow into their logos, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway and Waffle House. Yellow also communicates caution, which is one reason few financial institutions or investment banks sport yellow logos.
Color is both the foundation of art and a fitting subject for scientific experiments to measure its impact. Color is an event that happens in our heads in the sense that it is a product of the interaction of light energy with the cones and rods in our eyes, which tell our brains what we’re seeing. And while the perception of color is subjective, it has broader associations that savvy marketers can harness to drive sales and increase brand awareness.
Clearly brand managers must keep in mind that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to color. Brands that want to gain consumer recognition should consider a simple logo, which conveys ease of use and intuitiveness, concepts that companies like HootSuite and Apple incorporated when they streamlined their logos. The most successful and familiar brands in the world generally have one thing in common, no matter how divergent their product portfolios: a logo that reflects a simple design and color scheme.