I was reading through an article on Inc. Magazine’s site about how to choose the right color for your brand earlier in the week. Although it’s really one of those flowery, 100,000 ft overview articles that sometimes wash ashore at the magazine, I found that one particular quote struck a nerve with me:
“Color has been one of those things that’s been left up to the designer to select something. The CEOs or management say ‘oh I can’t do that, I’m not artistic.’ But my argument is that it’s not about being artistic – it’s not any different from making any other strategic decision for your business.”
I guess I can take this with a grain of salt, after all, it was written by a ‘color consultant’, who’s probably angling to justify her job, but this is untrue. The selection of your brand’s color should be precisely placed in the hands of your designer. Not trusting your designers abilities with color is akin to taking the structural design of an automobile out of an engineer’s hands and giving it to a marketing manager. Your designer has gone to college for just these sorts of things and if your designer is of good quality, they know, without a doubt, that the selection of color has absolutely nothing to do with artistry. A design degree revolves around the cultivation of decision-making when it comes to color.
I’ll give a case in point here about the decision-making that went into concept-work for a client. We were contracted to create new packaging for a glove manufacturer. They make work gloves and those high-tech mechanics gloves. There’s a lot of competition for the market, so you have to do things to get noticed and this is where color plays a giant part. As the article mentions, and I had mentioned a while back, color is the first thing that people see.
Bringing this to the work glove market, the dominant colors are yellow (because people think ‘safety’), red ( because it’s masculine), blue and of course, the leader by far, black. In fact, when you look at the other offerings all you see is a sea of black. The packaging is predominantly black and the gloves are black as well. All black.
We wanted to stand above the competition, just like the quality of the gloves does. We can achieve a bit of this through conscientious design, but most importantly, through color. Our thinking on the matter lead us away from black in any combination. If you want to be noticed you have to stand apart.
The easy color schemes of black & yellow , black & red, black & silver/gold and black & blue are well overused in the segment ( and in most ‘masculine’ areas). The color palette had to be different from the other offerings, yet still retain the feelings of toughness that the client wanted re-enforced. Our answer was to go to browns – the color of earth and hard jobs. It was a color heretofore not used in the segment and at the right hue, it certainly broke free from the competition.
To give further emphasis, we placed a bold stripe of white across the card. This helped do several things. Firstly, it’s a beacon to the brand in the sea of black, drawing in attention. The white makes an excellent field for placing important text and finally, the stripe is placed in a manner that helps define the glove from the background.
Speaking of the background, structurally, we designed a different card than the rest. Our card was larger – larger than the gloves themselves. Through a bit of research we found that we had a lot more room to put a bit more structure in than our clients had anticipated. This created a frame about the gloves where, due to the proper selection of the hue of brown, this frame not only separated the glove from the surrounding products, it also served to define the glove by disallowing it to recede in a predominantly black scene.
Was any of these decisions based on artistry? No. They were based on observation of the situation and critical ‘Design Thinking’ ( I think I might be loathing that term) that allowed for differentiation to occur in a highly competitive market.
Do I like brown? As a designer, I don’t ‘like’ colors. Colors are tools in my vocation’s toolbox, as most designers think of them – like engineers have rivets or springs. Who should you trust with your most important asset? A person in marketing or business who, if they’re lucky, had a class in PowerPoint, or a designer who wields color every day with the deft touch of a skilled craftsman?