A simple guide on colour theory from a designer

Have you ever wondered about the colour theory and how and why designers select colours to tempt you to choose their clients brands. Colours are powerful influencers when it comes to preferences. So why green and why blue or why not red or yellow? What difference can the choice of colour possibly make in relation to corporate brands. This is a bit of a rough guide to walk you through the meanings behind colours to help you understand how they work with some brands and not others. You might not agree though and think colour theory is a load of pug wash and the colour selection made by designers is just random. Judge for yourself.


Environmental and earthy, calm and ethical. The perfect choice for companies involved in environmental technologies, causes, products, health or organic foods. This is a reassuring colour, taking us to the country and mother nature. Green has the most shades and hues of all the colours that exist in our environment, just look outside at the plants and trees – you won’t see that selection of blues, browns or reds.


The banking colour – professional, business-like, conservative, trustworthy, innovative and reliable. This is the blue-Sky thinking of colour usage. It is cool, calm and thoughtful. Look at the sky, a higher deity. Look at the sea, fresh deep. It is no mistake this colour is a banking, financial and corporate favourite.


The colour of passion, aggression and sex. The Ferrari cars – fast, expensive and highly desired. A classic brand with red as it’s colour of choice. Virgin – modern, ground-breaking and trying to create that desired feel. Ann Summers, or, well if you want to get noticed, sales flashes too! Let’s face it red stands out and demands our attention.


Yellow is the colour of being up-beat, happy and optimistic. Brands that want to appear youthful might use it. Yellow ‘stands out’ as a colour too. It is bright and vibrant, especially against a black background. The well thumbed Yellow Pages directory used yellow as its whole brand – you certainly couldn’t miss it on a shelf.


Orange is the one colour that is the brand – Orange Telecom. I can remember when Orange was launched and had the jaw dropping realisation that this company had added a new category/meaning to a fruit, a colour and taste – it was very revolutionary at the time. A round orange became a square orange. Now any colour can mean anything, orange doesn’t need to be seen as unreliable anymore.


Sophistication and upper class this is the Royal colour. Expensive, decadent and desirable this is the colour that sells chocolates, cigarettes, fashion and drinks in a velvet smooth, intelligent way.


Fashion and girls; yep, it dominates the girls toy departments and shelves. But what about when you just see the word and no sign of the colour like ‘Pink’ the shirts retailer. By seeing the word do you immediately visualise the colour, not after a while. The word can be disassociated from the colour and will eventually stand alone with a new meaning of it’s own. Pink can be the new beige!


Look out for brands and advertisements that want to convey products they want to position as powerful or mystical, showing them highlighted coming out of the dark background. Car, motorbike and computer brands do this.


Cleanliness, clarity and purity. It is no mistake that all pharmaceutical companies use white to great effect. A billion dollar industry can’t be seen to be anywhere near any other colour. Although are they doing an orange and slowly changing their palette.

This of course is only a slightly simplistic interpretation of colours from my personal colour theory ideas. The selection for brands is much more complex and in the search for new and innovative combinations Graphic Designers and Graphic Design companies explore all options. Colour plays an important role though in the personality and even the whole brand.

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