One thing I was taught very early on in my graphic design lessons was that certain colours, specifically hues, work for certain brands. I, however, have been questioning this theory. After all, have you ever noticed how two logos with completely opposing target markets can share virtually identical hues in their logos?
So, how is this possible? Why can an identical hue be used for opposite brands and still work in their separate ways?
Well, if you ask me, it’s not the hues which give a brand its identity. It’s actually everything surrounding that hue which gives the brand its effect, specifically its HSL properties, it’s palette, and the shapes and textures used.
Saturation and Luminosity
HSL stands for ‘Hue, Saturation and Luminosity’. To put it simply, the ‘hue’ is what degree along the light-spectrum/colour-wheel the colour lies in, the saturation is how grey the colour is, and the luminosity is how much white or black is added to the colour.
Let’s begin by playing with the saturation of a colour. Those with high saturations appear brighter and stronger, whilst those with low saturations appear duller and more moderate. Therefore, tampering with the saturation at regular levels of luminosity can make a brand appear either more grown-up, or more juvenile.
And then, there’s the effects of changing the luminosity of a colour. Adding more white can make one look more soothing, whilst adding black can make one look more intimidating. Essentially, tampering with the luminosity can make a colour more or less inviting.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. When we use low saturation and low luminosity, colours appear both stricter and uninviting, essentially making them look either dirtier or regal (especially depending on if they’re warm or cool colours). On the other hand, colours with low saturations and high luminosities appear both mundane and welcoming, which essentially (and rather distinctly) creates the effect of pastel colours.
It’s not just what you do to a colour which changes the effect it has. It’s also which colours you pair it with.
Now, let’s remind ourselves through the basic principles; analogous colours are sequential and typically have lower contrasts, and complementary colours which are opposites on the colour-wheel and typically have higher contrasts. With that said, what happens when you start to alter their saturations and luminosities?
Firstly, let’s tamper with the luminosities. Just as with regular colours, simutaniously brightening and darkening both ones doesn’t improve their contrasts. However, when one colour is darkened and another is lightened, it can actually increase the contrast between the two complementary colours. Furthermore, the same thing can be said for when colours are desaturated.
However, when when only one of the colours is desaturated, regardless of the shade, they marginally bare a larger contrast than when they were equal saturations. Moreover, opposite shades don’t contrast as strongly as they did when they had equal saturations.
With the right combination of saturations and luminosities, complementary colours can suddenly be made to contrast with each other, creating a more complex colour palette than what was previously made.
Shape and Texture
Despite my lengthy explanation of how palettes, luminosities and darkness’s, can change the appearance of a colour, I think the key is simply a matter of what shape and what texture it’s used in.
For example, a strong red can look very passionate when placed in a crisp heart shape, yet suddenly look very violent when it’s used as the colour of blood. The same can be said for the green, which can look very pure when placed in the image of a leaf, but suddenly disgusting if it’s used to look slimy.
Let’s face it, people, both things with positive and negative connotations can share the same basic colours, sheerly changing the context in which we see a colour can make us think of a colour in either a good or bad way.
And, in relation to my previous point, different colour palettes can make us associate identical colours with different things. For example, a strong yellow when placed next to a natural green can look very natural, yet suddenly look warm when placed next to an equally strong red. The colour itself hasn’t changed. It’s just that it’s surrounding colours have changed its appeal.
Therefore, does hue really matter?
It might seem like I’m defending the fact that any he can work for any brand, I do believe that there are certain brands which can only be effective with certain hues, or visa versa. Whilst I’m sure it’d be possible, I’d struggle to make a logo for a masculine brand work by using pink, because of its association with feminine brands. Similarly, if a tanning company approached me wanting to design their brand, I’d be reluctant to choose cool colours such as blues and greens.
Also, choosing a hue that’s analogous to the product being sold can help to make the product appear more vibrant. Probably my favourite example of this is the Heinz Baked Beans labels. Most baked beans brands use warm colours to match the product itself, but Heinz ingeniously used an analogous hue to make them seem richer in flavour.
Regardless, don’t be afraid to experiment with the hues you use once in a while, because it might just be what helps a brand to stand out from the crowd.