How to choose colours for a branding project

Howdy’s logo for the UK Council for International Student Affairs includes variations to suit a range of contexts

You only have to look at companies like Easyjet and Cadbury to realise how important colour is to defining brand identity. In fact, research by intellectual property lawyers Withers & Rogers found that consumers thought colour was the most important visual element of a brand. Not surprisingly, the same research measured brand recall of 93 per cent of respondents for Easyjet and 88 per cent for Cadbury based on their Pantones alone.

No matter how big or small the brand, choosing the right colour means thinking hard about what a branding project needs to achieve. When working on the identity for the Queen’s Nursing Institute, a charity that helps improve the quality of home care, London-based designers Howdy ( wanted a palette that was suitably warm and informal. They settled on bright pink and grey.

“The bright pink is a reaction against their old fusty identity and presents them as a vibrant, relevant and modern organisation,” says Howdy’s Neil Smith. “The cool grey type balances the strong pink in the logo, helping to echo the professionalism of the organisation.”

Bright colours in Figtree’s branding help to set Flying Fantastic apart from conventional gyms

While the primary identity should be strong, it is also important to build flexibility into colour choices. Howdy provided three different colourways for corporate communications or other situations where pink would not have been appropriate. The same was true for Howdy’s identity for the UK Council for International Student Affairs, as it was important that the organisation be able to change its “tone” for different types of communication.

When creating a vibrant identity for Flying Fantastic, a gym which specialises in trapezes and other aerial exercises, the Figtree agency ( used a huge palette to differentiate the gym from the coldness of traditional gyms. The choice was also inspired by the tones of vintage circus posters.

“It was important to define a strong hierarchy between the logo and all the other graphic elements,” says Figtree’s Anna Nicolo. “We picked darker colours for the logo and used brighter colours for the ‘hero’ illustrations – of animals and the silhouettes of women.”

When selecting colours, think about how they might be arranged to become more than the sum of their parts. Such considerations were part of the process when Harrison & Co ( came up with a seaside-inspired identity for the Visit Brighton campaign. “The palette of cyan, magenta, purple and reflex blue might seem a bit bog standard,” says agency founder Chris Harrison, “but we blended the colours in an overall gradient. When combined they feel very electric and vibrant.” Making sure that logo colours don’t clash with stock photography or other visual elements is also a key concern.

Brighton-based Harrison & Co used a gradient to make their Visit Brighton logo “electric and vibrant”

It’s important that a colourful logo maintain its strength when used in monochrome communications. “Like a good photograph, a logo should work just as well in black and white as it does in colour,” Chris says. “If you reply on colour alone, it’s very easy to design yourself into a corner.”

Indeed, sometimes finding an appropriate palette means staying away from colour altogether. When Harrison & Co rebranded writers’ charity English Pen in black, it was because many of the colourways they initially tried seemed too ‘jolly’. “English PEN is a very serious organisation, [campaigning for] freedom for writers under persecution all around the world,” Chris says. The single use of black signals weight and stature. If treated properly, black needn’t look dull.”

The Queen’s Nursing Institute’s pink/grey branding is simultaneously informal and professional, say designers Howdy

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