In the designer’s craft, logos represent a special
achievement. They are the most succinct and compact
vehicles we use to communicate complex messages.
They must embody specific qualities that
connect with and linger in the minds of the intended
audiences. They must be thoughtfully conceived,
expertly crafted, employ appropriate and supportive
typography, and be imbued with a color sense that
resonates with viewers.
Color, of course, is highly subjective. What is
individually pleasing to one person may elicit only
a neutral response in another person. How many
times, for example, have you been asked to use the
CEO’s favorite color in the company’s logo? How
many times have you observed designers (other
designers, naturally—never you or I!) propose logo
colors based on the latest trend or on their own personal
While there is no way to anticipate (and also
little reason to accommodate) arbitrary tastes, there
are certain colors and combinations that have come
to represent particular attributes. Knowing and
understanding these particular attributes can help
you be more effective when selecting meaningful
colors for your logo projects, as will the following
1. Weigh the one-color implications.
First is the general (but recently declining)
requirement that a logo should work in one color.
Typically, one color means black; this is based on
economy more than any color theory. While it is
important to consider what happens to a logo when
it is photocopied, faxed, or applied in one-color situations
(such as in a newspaper or silk screened on a
T-shirt), the one-color rule is slowly becoming less
applicable. We are increasingly relying on paperless
document distribution, and color desktop printing
is practically ubiquitous. If your multicolored logo
needs to work in a single color, be sure to select
colors that are sufficiently different in value to allow
for one-color reproduction.
2. Anticipate the applications.
Another consideration is utility. How easy will it
be to implement the color scheme you’ve selected
for your logo? A three-color logo, for example,
requires a significant commitment when you’re
producing printed materials. Complex three-color
designs generally incur the most cost when printing
and may limit flexibility when selecting accent
colors for designs. To mitigate this, you can use
colors from the logo itself as major colors in the
applied design (this is also true of one- and twocolor
designs). When selecting colors for a logo, it’s
important to anticipate its final application.
3. Think about the story your colors tell.
In addition to these practical considerations, color
should be considered as an effective tool for storytelling.
Color communicates a wealth of emotions,
moods, and circumstances. It’s no accident that red
and yellow are almost ubiquitously used for branding
fast food franchises, or that blue is so frequently
associated with health care. Careful thought has
been given to the effect these colors have on the
human imagination. When you understand the
moods that color can promote, a logo can serve as
an effective ambassador for the nature and psychology
of the entity it represents.
Sometimes color choices are obvious—such as
when you’re designing a logo for a company with a
color in its name, or when the subject of the logo
is naturally synonymous with a color (e.g., blue for
water). In other instances, color selection presents
more of a challenge.
To help you gain confidence in selecting color
for logos, we’ve excerpted a series of examples from
our recent book, Color Harmony: Logos. In each case (see below sidebar),
we’ve created a logo based on a descriptive term, then
applied a variety of color palettes to demonstrate how
altering the color choices changes what the overall
When the colors change, the message changes,
too. We’re showing just a few examples here—there
are more than 1,000 in the book itself, as well as a
discussion of the color wheel and the various geometric
themes within it, case studies, and more than 100
real-world examples of logos that make effective use
Armed with an understanding of the theoretical
relationships among colors, and an appreciation
for the power of color to elicit specific moods, you’ll
have the tools you need to create memorable, appropriate
logos that make effective use of color.
SIDEBAR: Will Your Logo Work in One Color?
Try this technique to test the contrast levels
in your logo design.
When you have concerns about whether
your logo design will work in a single color,
convert your art to grayscale. If the colors
you’ve chosen are too close in value, they
will lose their definition, regardless of hue.
Balance of contrast creates dimension; this
will be reflected in the appearance of the
The Elements of Color,
by Johannes Itten,
$45, John Wiley &
The Interaction of
Color, by Josef Albers,
$15, Yale University Press
Augustine Hope and
$64.95, Van Nostrand
And take a walk
Impressionist wing of
any good art museum.
This article and
are adapted from the
book Color Harmony:
Logos, by Christopher
Simmons and MINE™,
$25, Rockport Publishers. The book
is accompanied by an
interactive CD with
logo art that allows
readers to experiment
with color combinations
and print the
results for reference.