Color Meaning and Symbolism: How To Use The Power of Color in Your Branding


Tap into the power of color to express your brand attributes and values.

A brand’s logo and visual identity will comprise a number of visual cues, such as shapes, symbols, number, and words. But the number one visual component that people remember most is color. In fact, color increases brand recognition by up to 80%.

Color has the power to convey and communicate meanings and messages without words. Quick pop quiz: What color symbolizes the US Republican party? How about the Democrats? If you said red for Republicans and blue for Democrats you’re right. Each party is so strongly affiliated with its color that many politicians will wear a red tie or blue tie depending on which party they represent.

When it comes to branding, the power of color is both emotional and practical. On an emotional level, it can affect how consumers feel when they look at a brand, while on a practical level it can help a brand stand out in the crowd.

A number of studies on the relationship between color and branding (here, here and here) reveal that up to 90% of snap judgments made about products can be based on color alone, that colors influence how consumers view the ‘personality’ of the brand in question, and that the relationship between brands and color hinges on the perceived appropriateness of the color being the right ‘fit’ for the particular brand.

This is all well and good, but how do you go about choosing a color that suits your brand? In this article, we will examine the use of color in branding and give you an 11-color guide to help you choose the perfect one for your brand.

01. Red – For Danger, Passion, Excitement & Energy

Meanings: Red has a number of different contextual associations and in branding can deliver a highly visible punch. It has the ability to rev desire; and not surprisingly when it is the color of fire, danger, and blood on one hand; and love, sexuality and passion on the other. It is a bold, energetic and lively color that can symbolize strength, confidence and power.

Tips for use: Because red has such powerful meanings, it is perhaps best used with discretion. But, if other brands are avoiding red, it may be a great way to stand out from the crowd.

Kombi sells warm winter clothing suitable for the Canadian climate. Its brand identity uses red to evoke that feeling of warmth and heat as well as drawing on the colors on the Canadian flag.

This visual identity the Swedish Democratic Youth League uses red as it strongly tied to political affiliations. In Sweden, red is for the Democratic Party, derived from its traditional symbol of a red rose.

Uniform designed this brand identity of Norwegian restaurant Ingierstrand and while it uses red, the color and its meanings are softened by texture, transparency and cream contrast.

02. Orange – Fresh, Youthful, Creative & Adventurous

Meanings: Blending the warmth of red and the optimism of yellow, orange communicates activity and energy. And of course it’s hard not to go past orange as the color of, well, oranges, and all their vitamin c byproducts, which immediately makes orange feel fresh and healthy. Orange is not for everyone (it was certainly the color of the decade in the 1970s) and can therefore tap into associations of youthfulness, creativity and adventure.

Tips for use: Because orange is associated with fun and vibrancy is well suited to youthful, energetic brands and best avoided for luxury, traditional or serious brands.

Feeding the Self is an organization that teaches African youths to be self-sustainable with veggie and herb gardens. Here, orange conveys youthfulness, as well as the fresh and healthy feeling associated with gardens.

This visual identity for film production company Adventure uses big bold orange with big bold typography to convey a vibrant sense of adventure and youthfulness.

Full Orange created, ironically, a visual identity for Ampersand Agency that is full orange (with some blue and brown thrown in). Orange expresses the creativity and energy of the agency.

03. Yellow – Optimistic, Cheerful, Playful & Happy

Meanings: Being the color of sunshine, yellow puts a smile on the dial. It is the most visible color from a distance (which is why it’s used for street signs) and communicates cheerfulness, friendliness, joy and energy (who doesn’t need more yellow in their life?) It can also be associated with mental clarity and intellect (again, who doesn’t need more yellow?) However, yellow is also a cautionary color used in life vests, police cordoning tape and hazardous areas.

Tips for use: Some shades of yellow can look cheap – although this may suit your brand image. So yellow is a great example of when to research consumer reaction to color appropriateness and make sure it is the right color for your product. Make sure to use good design if you want to avoid any feeling of cheapness.

This stationery is for the illusionist group The Citrus Brothers. The yellow, like the illusionists, is cheerful, entertaining and smile-inducing.  

This concept visual identity promotes Aachen as a center for electric vehicles and uses yellow, which is traditionally associated with electricity and also communicates energy.

Yellow and back can be a risky choice, but Impero’s goldish-yellow branding combined with simple typography is contemporary and understated. Overall, it is friendly and playful – and as they say “good looking and clever.”

04. Green – Natural, Vitality, Prestige & Wealth

Meanings: Green has two very common meanings that are quite paradoxical; one being nature and the environment, and the other being finance and wealth. When it comes to nature, green represents plant life and growth and is consequently used to convey being ‘green’ in the environmental, sustainable, organic, natural sense of the word. And of course green is, as the saying goes, ‘the color of money’ (US money, that is) and therefore associated with wealth and stability.

Tips for use: Pick your shade of green carefully as brighter, lighter greens indicate growth, vitality and renewal; while darker, richer greens represent prestige, wealth and abundance.

This business card for Albahaca Restaurant looks good enough to eat. With a vibrant green image of the restaurant’s namesake herb, the brand is fresh, healthy and full of vitality.

This branding by Kokoro & Moi gets the green light. Promoting a street food festival, the fluorescent green communicates both the neon lights of Asia’s night markets as well as the fresh and experimental food being served up.

Green is used to great effect for Filmfaktisk’s branding identity. An earthy, pine green tint has been applied to various images adding a sense of prestige, richness and depth.

05. Blue – Communicative, Trustworthy, Calming & Depressed

Meanings: Blue is the most universally preferred color, perhaps for its very versatile qualities. It is a favorite color for companies that wish to convey reliability, trustworthiness and communication (I’m looking at you Facebook, Twitter and Samsung) and for expressing the authority and officialdom of organizations (oh, hey there Constable). It is also appreciated for it’s calming and harmonious qualities being associated with the sea and sky. However, being associated with the emotional feeling of being ‘blue’ it is also used to express sadness or depression.

Tips for use: Blue runs the gamut from corporate and dependable, to calming and tranquil, to feeling down in the dumps. So just like green, choose your shade wisely. Or even avoid it altogether if it’s a popular color in your market segment.

Siegfried is a life coaching company that is all about communication and leadership. Blue conveys Siegfried’s professionalism, dependability and strength while the vibrancy of the blue is contemporary.

The brand identity for Wo Hing General Store draws on a rich visual language that combines vibrant blue with light blue. It pays homage to the bright lights of Asia while portraying a calmer space and atmosphere.

White Studio designed a new visual identity system for the city of Porto. They used the blue from the city’s colored and patterned tiles and used it to communicate stories of the city.

06. Purple – Royalty, Majesty, Spiritual & Mysterious

Meanings: Purple is a low arousal color. It is traditionally associated with royalty, majesty or nobility as well as having a spiritual or mysterious quality. Darker shades often represent luxury or opulence while lighter lavender shades are quite feminine, sentimental and even nostalgic.

Tips for use: Purple is best used for targeting a female audience as research suggests that while women list purple as a top-tier color, it doesn’t even rank for men. Overall, purple is not a common color for branding and in fact Cadbury is the only purple brand in the Forbes list of the 100 most valuable brands from 2014.

Purple may not be for everyone but these business cards for Intu demonstrate that combined with grey it works very well and becomes, perhaps, more gender neutral.

Purple will stand out from the crowd in these business cards for medical software company Tidepool. The deep purple (contrasted with mid-blue and white) is rich and majestic.

The business card for Louisville interior design company Bella Casa pays homage to the city’s Victorian homes and French influence. These feminine, nostalgic and sentimental attributes are visually communicated through the choice of purple.

07. Brown – Organic, Wholesome, Simple & Honest

Meanings: Brown gets a lot of use in this era of organic and natural food, beauty and products. Nature inspired it represents a feeling of wholesomeness, orderliness, and being grounded. It is simple, strong, durable and honest and may express that your brand has better things to care about than superfluous color, when really… (mind trick!).

Tips: Use caution with brown as it can remind people of dirt. On the other hand it’s also great to cover up dirt if the product you’re branding has anything to do with soil, dirt or mud.

This visual identity for Clay draws on a brown color palette and uncoated material texture – and fittingly so given it’s a museum of ceramic arts and crafts. The brown communicates the earthiness and honesty of the base materials.

This concept visual identity Everybody Loves Fish & Chips unites various tones of brown and uncoated paper to convey as sense of wholesome, natural, organic food.

Maurizio Pagnozzi designed the visual identity for fashion shop XXY using both light brown and a darker, wood-grained brown that represents the brand as being simple, durable and honest.

08. Pink – Feminine, Sentimental, Romantic & Exciting

Meanings: Pink has long been (stereotypically) associated with females and is often viewed as being ‘girly.’ However, like all colors, pink is quite diverse and the level of intensity can impact its meaning. Pale pink, often marketed as the official color of little girls, represents sweetness while dusty pink can be more sentimental and light pink more romantic. At the other end of the scale, hot pink indicates youthfulness, energy, fun and excitement.

Tips for use: Identify the mood and feeling you want to muster and choose your pink accordingly. Don’t shy away from using pink for genderless brands (like T-Mobile does) as you may be targeting personality rather than demographics.

Sam Lane specifically chose light, rosy pink for photographer Eleanor Finch’s business cards in order to target a primarily female audience. However, the black imagery and simple type keeps this modern without being ‘girly.’

Here, Lane used bright hot pink for the British Independent Film Festival identity. Wishing to capture attention, he combined it with tongue-in-cheek text for fun, energetic and youthful appeal.

Pale pink underlies this colorful visual identity for architect Georgia Gamborgi. Although the pink is sweet and romantic, it serves as a memorable canvas that is youthful and vibrant.

09. Black – Sophisticated, Formal, Luxurious & Sorrowful

Meanings: While color is more likely to increase brand recognition there’s no reason black – when used appropriately – can’t be just as distinctive, memorable and communicative of a brand’s attributes. Black is to be taken seriously. It represents power, luxury, sophistication and exclusivity on one hand; and death, evil and mystery on the other. From formality to mourning to power, black is bold, classic and not to be fooled with.

Tips for use: Contrast a bright color against black; use gold foil for touch of luxe; or combine it with white for a bold and simple statement. Think about texture and how matte or glossy black might change the message of your brand.

Matte black with glossy black type is sophisticated and distinctive in this visual identity for A Design Film Festival. It’s classic and bold and the textures and shine are eye-catching.

This visual identity for All For Show represents luxury and exclusivity with a black palette punctuated with gold foil. Transparent imagery adds depth and layers.

SWG_Studio revitalized their corporate branding with predominantly black stationery with geometric interlocking lines and shapes. The overall look is formal, professional and serious.

10. White – Purity, Simplicity, Innocence & Minimalism

Meanings: White represents simplicity, purity, innocence and perfection. And if you had to identify one brand that has used white to convey its brand message to perfection it would have to be Apple – white represents the simplicity of the products in both their form and function. White also comes with a starkness or sterility about it, which is often used be designers to convey a minimalist aesthetic and clean, modern quality.

Tips for use: It is difficult to inject personality into your brand when using white, so make sure your brand personality is about simplicity, purity, and transparency.

Designer Thomas Wightman created this identity system to portray his personal design style. Nearly all white, with a black + symbol for his first initial, the branding is simple, straightforward and minimalist.

Lucas Leo Catalano has created a holistic visual identity for Orto Botanico, once the botanical gardens of the Vatican. White, overlaid on organic and natural colors and textures, communicates the purity and perfection of nature.

The Håndvaerk brand promotes refined simplicity, clean lines and understated luxury. This is all communicated through white-on-white, which is pure, honest and transparent.

11. Multicolor – Variety

Meanings: Of course, what about mixing multiple colors in one logo, such as Google, the Olympics and NBC? Diverse color generally indicates variety – be it representative of people, countries, or offerings.

Tips for use: Mo’ colors equals mo’ money when it comes to printing so consider your budget (although this won’t matter if you’re dealing online only). Pay attention to how your choice of colors work together both printed and digitally as the end result may vary with different screens and different printers.

New Images Systems has six employees, so boymeetsgirl assigned each employee one color. They are united by grey and a diagonal line derived from the logotype’s N. Overall, the design conveys the concept of strength in numbers.

Giddy+Up combines a love for Helvetica, Swiss-style poster are and horse racing jockey shirts. This concept design employs multiple colors to represent the variety of jockey shirts.

Kokoro & Moi love producing brightly colored visual identities and Hello Ruby is no exception. It celebrates all the realms of computing through the big imagination of a small girl. Bold and playful colors express optimism, curiosity and variety – just some of the many attributes of computing.

Ready to inject some colorful flair into your brand?

Choosing the “right” color for your brand isn’t easy, but it is important, and you should spend some time choosing the color(s) you think best represents your brand. Start with these questions:

  • What words represent your brand’s personality?
  • What colors represent those words?
  • What color suits the characteristics of your product / service?
  • What color do your competitors use?

To help you along, check out Cymbolism, which matches words with colors for the desired emotional effect.


Rebecca is a freelance writer, researcher, and design historian. She has a Masters in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons The New School for Design, New York, and studies cultural history through the lens of architecture, design, and decorative arts.