One of my favorite steps in the branding process is selecting a color palette for my clients. Color is incredibly powerful — a complete language on its own. Color sets the tone for a brand, so I find it critical to consider the meaning behind what I select for my clients.
This process is what works for me, and while there is certainly room for a bit of interpretation when it comes to meaning, the truth is that we are hardwired as humans to respond to colors in specific ways. Each color creates specific emotional responses that must be considered when crafting a visual identity. Does that mean we can't push the envelope and challenge those meanings? Of course not. My greatest joy comes from creating something both effective and unexpected. But the best way for me to serve my clients is by putting significant thought into the colors that make up their brand identity, and having a concrete reason for selecting each color.
1. DETERMINE THE TONE
I spend time reviewing my client's inspiration, survey, and notes from our initial phone call to determine the type of feeling we are trying to achieve. Southern hospitality? Feminine rebellion? Natural wellness? I write down the initial colors that come to mind. Often I "see" a color palette in my head before I even touch my computer.
2. RESEARCH COMPETITORS
I do a little Nancy Drew work and survey all of my client's competitors (I ask for this list in their client survey). At this time I am taking notes — Does everyone use the same colors? Are there specific and obvious trends in their industry? What is working for the competitors and what isn't? Determine when it makes sense to follow a trend and when it makes sense to push the envelope.
3. SELECT COLORS
I am constantly taking photos of colors that I love in the real world — magazines, advertisements, billboards, bus wraps, packaging, book covers, restaurant menus. I start with these photos when it is time to create a palette, then begin to pull together swatches in Illustrator. I select five colors for my clients. Two dark, two light, one neutral. I typically create 2–3 versions of a color palette, and then combine/eliminate until I have it boiled down to one palette concept that I am confident in. I provide my clients with CMYK, PMS, and HEX color values.
4. COLOR USAGE
Next, I determine which colors will be used for what, and what acceptable color combinations are. I select which colors will be used for background colors, typography colors, which colors can work together (right amount of contrast) and which should stay separate (if there's not enough contrast).
5. DELIVER CONCEPTS
This is the most important part of the process. Along with their logo concepts, I include a description of why each color was selected for their brand palette. I do this for two reasons. 1) I want my clients to understand the thought and intention behind the colors I selected and 2) I want them to be able to speak confidently to others about why their brand looks the way it does.