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Brand Color Considerations – Color Theory, Harmony, Temperature, and Association

This is part two of a series on Color. See part one here.

In part one of this series, I discussed the important role color plays in your branding. In it, I touched on brand recognition, color psychology, how we are influenced by color functionally and emotionally, and where and how color is used in your branding. 

In part two, below, I’m covering color theory, harmony, temperature, and general color association.

Graphics © 2022, Nicola Black Design, LLC  • All rights reserved. Written permission is required before use. 

Color Theory – A light breakdown:

When designing brand identities, I always work with limited palettes. There are a few functional reasons for this, but my main goal is to create a sense of balance and cohesion. Considering the information from my initial research and data, I am able to begin the task of choosing colors or a set of colors to test with the audience. 

With that information in hand, I’m ready to explore color combinations. First up, let’s look at the color wheel. Please note, for the purposes of this article, I am referring to the traditional color theory (RYB) used in traditional painting and mixing.

In the color wheel, you’ll notice primary, secondary, and tertiary colors marked by “P,” “S,” and “T.”: 


  • red
  • yellow
  • blue


  • orange
  • green
  • purple


  • red-orange
  • yellow-orange
  • red-purple
  • blue-purple
  • blue-green
  • yellow-green 


But which combinations work? Which should you use and why? Color harmony and how colors work together cohesively is what we’ll explore next.

Color Harmony Formulas:

Let’s take a look at color harmony formulas for inspiration around combinations that work well together well. 


Analogous colors are a group of colors next to each other on the color wheel.

  • Ex: orange, yellow-orange, yellow


Complementary colors are exact opposites on the color wheel.

  • Ex: blue-green, red-orange


Monochromatic colors are variations of one color by adding white, gray, or black.

  • Ex: red, pink (or red w/white), maroon (or red w/black)


Choose a color on the wheel. Now choose the two colors on either side of its complement for a split-complementary scheme.

  • Ex: red-purple, yellow, green


A triadic color scheme includes three colors on the color wheel that are situated 120 degrees apart from one another (equilateral triangle).

  • Ex: red-orange, yellow-green, blue-purple


A square color scheme is similar to the concept of triadic, but uses four colors situated 90 degrees from one another (a square). 

  • Ex: red, yellow-orange, green, blue-purple


A rectangle color scheme uses 4 colors arranged into two complementary pairs (using the points of a rectangle on the color wheel). 

  • Ex: red-purple, red-orange, yellow-green, blue-green


Play with some of these combinations and see what you uncover. Coming up with color combinations for any project you’re working on, including coming up with brand colors (or to hold onto for use down the line), can be a lot of fun. Take your time and choose a few combinations, using the formulas above, that feel good. 

Another idea is to simply look outside. Nature gives us incredible, naturally occurring combinations that are appealing to the eye. If it aligns with your research and data, take a photo and pull some colors directly from it to play with. A fun exercise in exploring options!

Color Temperature:

Color Temperature plays a role as well. Does it make sense for your branding to use warm, cool, or neutral colors? 

Have a look at our color wheel. Generally, one side of the wheel is “warm.” The other side is “cool.”

If you’ve read part one of this series, you know how color can evoke certain feelings in the viewer. With that, warm colors are associated with heat, energy, urgency, and intensity. Cool colors, on the other hand, are calmer. For example, they are associated with relaxation, tranquility, wisdom, and understanding. Neutral colors are muted shades created by mixing complementary colors. They are a balance of warm and cool colors. They are associated with nature, groundedness, and comfort.







Tint, Shade, and Tone:

You’ll notice that when you look at our color wheel above that the colors are incredibly vibrant. But what about all the other colors on the spectrum that are a bit lighter, darker, or muted?

Tint, shade, and tone have a lot to do with variations available and are wonderful ways for you to explore color in your branding. 

A basic definition of these terms is as follows:


Lightening a color by adding white.


Darkening a color by adding black. This can also be accomplished by adding its complementary color. 


Adding grey (or tinting and shading) to a color to mute.

In summary, the colors you choose should be functional, intentional, and informed by the data collected in your brand strategy research (read more about why strategy is so important to your brand identity here). They should help to convey your messaging, speak to your audience, and be used throughout your collateral to create a sense of cohesion. 

  • Functionality: Are they harmonious – do they work together? Do they have good contrast? Do they work in all environments and backgrounds (light, dark, mid-tone)? Do they make sense?
  • Intentionality: Is there an understanding of what each color evokes from your audience? Do your colors make sense for your industry and the audience you’re trying to reach?
  • Informed choices: Is your color strategy backed up by real data? Does it match your Brand Personality? Have you tested with a focus group? Have you invested in the necessary time for research?

Color Associations:

The following list of color associations can influence your audience, but shouldn’t be chosen based on emotional response alone. This is a general list and can be expanded. Your overall company strategy and messaging will also influence brand color options. 

Another key consideration is your customer. Who are they? What colors speak to them AND mesh well with your strategy and messaging? 


Energy, bold, power, action, confidence, determination, caution, anger, desire, love, passion, hot


Happy, fun, young, bright, cheerful, intellect


Warm, autumn, joy, sunshine, enthusiasm, creativity, success, encouragement


Authentic, compassionate, spiritual, stability, professional, safety, dependable, trustworthy, smart, peaceful, sincere


Nature, calm, growth, money, freshness


Wealth, mystical, decadent, royal, power, luxury, ambition, dignity, independence, magic


Rustic, practical, vintage, earthy, dependable, resilience, mature


Sophistication, night, death, contemporary, mystery, formality, strength, authority, elegant, prestigious


Pure, peace, truth, cleanliness, goodness


Subtle, sophisticated, neutral, balance

There’s a lot to think about when making these decisions and it is a process. It’s also only one part of designing a well-thought-out and successful Visual Brand Identity. You’ll want information on what to think about when choosing brand fonts. It’s also a good idea to learn more about the features of a well-designed logo. And don’t forget about your all-important foundation, all of the research, data, and messaging you’ll work on to inform your strategically designed visual brand identity

If all of this sounds overwhelming and you’d like help, I’m happy to explore with you. Set up a complimentary 30-minute consultation to start the conversation today! Or download “Logo To Go: A DIY Visual Brand Identity Assistant.” It’ll guide you through the process with more confidence than going it alone.

How are you feeling about your brand colors?

Now that you’ve read this article, how are you feeling about your brand colors? Not sure if what you’ve developed is working for your business? Interested in a professional opinion to see if and where you can improve? Try one of our Light Brand Identity Audit packages!

By booking an audit, you’ll get
  • An understanding of whether or not your messaging is aligned with your current visuals
  • Insight on how you can improve your design assets to better convey your brand messaging
  • Suggested ways design elements can be used to engage your target audience
  • Tips on how to adapt visuals to improve brand recognition
A PDF Report Outlining:
  • What’s done well
  • What needs work/pain points
  • Areas of opportunity for better visual execution
  • Our recommendations
  • Suggested Next Steps
PLUS: A bonus credit:

A credit in the amount of your chosen package to apply to one of our custom Visual Brand Identity Strategy and Design packages.

Book a Light Audit today!

Have another project you’d like to discuss? Book a complimentary 30-minute consultation where we can learn more and get to know you and your business. Have questions or want to send a message? Contact us here.

Or read “Logo To Go: A DIY Visual Brand Identity Assistant”

Logo To Go book cover design mockupI wrote Logo To Go to serve as an in-between for small business owners who aren’t quite ready to invest in a professionally designed brand identity – think of it as the missing link between choosing to DIY and hiring a professional. It’s specifically written for small business owners, who are not designers and don’t have any knowledge of what actually goes into creating a full brand identity.

Jumping straight to DIY can be dangerous without some idea of the process or the insight a professional would bring to the project. That’s why I created Logo To Go – so small business owners could come away with some peace of mind feeling a bit more informed and confident that what they’re creating is more strategic and well-designed than if they go it alone. Read more about Logo To Go and download the first chapter FREE.

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