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Using Color Wheels To Your Advantage

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

It's often assumed that colors have a very rudimentary effect when it comes to mental or emotional behaviors. Type "the psychology of colors" into Google and it will spit out pretty much the first 10 results to back up this assumption. It normally explains that red is passionate, green is healthy, and blue is trustworthy, etc etc. In some aspects, these generalizations can be absolutely true, but colors can be so much more complex than just what seems to be on the surface.


Discover the basic outline of color psychology and how colors can affect human behavior.
Psychology of Colors

(Image by usertesting.com)


Colors have a huge impact on how a brand is perceived, and if every company stuck to the basics, every bank would be blue and every jeweler would be purple. Simplifying colors under this umbrella of categories is the worst thing to do during the branding process. A brand's identity is defined by more than just the emotional perception of the color that's being used. It can be inflicted by the industry that they operate within, the style of typography that is used, the demographic of their target audience, and much more.


Ocean Netowork Express are branded with a unique magenta color to stand out from competitors.
Ocean Network Express Container Ship

(Image by One-Line.com)


A great example of how to effectively use color within a brand is Ocean Network Express (ONE). They saw a market that was saturated with blue and grey logos and decided to completely stand out. Breaking away from normality has produced a shipping container brand that truly separates itself from every competitor in the market. They now "own" the magenta color within the cargo industry which has stapled their identity across all logistical networks.



So how can we use colors correctly to create an ideal brand identity? Well, let's start with the basics.



Now, I'm not going to bore you with the generic descriptions and charts of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. You should know that already from elementary school. Instead, I'll be going into detail about far more complex color systems such as analogous, triad, and split-complementary to name a few. Heard of those before? If you're not a designer, then you probably haven't. But that's ok! As I mentioned way back in my first post, these blogs are to help educate and share industry knowledge for our community to learn, grow, and understand new information.


Utilizing a sophisticated color chart is often what separates good branding from average. They explore a broader connection between colors that you maybe never even considered possible. To help us scan the infinitely large color spectrum, we use Adobe's color wheel software. It is a designer's color playroom and it's free!


Let's take a look at how the following charts can interact with a green focal color which is donated by the small white triangle in the middle (box C).


Analogous

Analogous color schemes utilize the color groups directly next to the focal color. Adobe Color Wheel.
Analogous Color Scheme

Analogous color schemes use colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. The fact they are so close to each other means they usually match well to create clear and comfortable designs. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and are harmonious, making them pleasing to the eye. However, these colors need to be executed correctly so that there is enough visible contrast. Choose one color to dominate, a second to support, and the third color is used (along with black, white, or grey) as an accent.



Triad

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Adobe Color Wheel.
Triad Color Scheme

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. Triadic color harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your hues. To use a triadic color scheme successfully, the colors should be carefully balanced - let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.


Complementary

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. They have high contrast to create a vibrant look, especially when used at full saturation. Adobe Color Wheel.
Complementary Color Scheme

The complementary scheme is the most common and probably the one you've already heard of! Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel. They have high contrast to create a vibrant look, especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring. Also! Be very careful when using this scheme with text!



Split-Complementary

The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. Adobe Color Wheel.
Split-Complementary Color Scheme

The split-complementary color scheme is a variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors adjacent to its complement. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme but has less tension.


Double Split-Complementary

A double split-complementary color scheme is a softer variation of the split-complementary system. Rather than just breaking off from the complementary color, this scheme also branches away from the focal color to create a very balanced color portfolio. Adobe Color Wheel.
Double-Split Complementary Color Scheme

A double split-complementary color scheme is a softer variation of the split-complementary system. Rather than just breaking off from the complementary color, this scheme also branches away from the focal color to create a very balanced color portfolio. This is great when exploring more colors that work in unison and provides some freedom to experiment.



Square

The square color scheme is pretty self-explanatory. It uses four colors spaced evenly around the color circle. It works really well if you let one color be dominant and the others work as accents. Adobe Color Wheel.
Square Color Scheme

The square color scheme is pretty self-explanatory. It uses four colors spaced evenly around the color circle. It works really well if you let one color be dominant and the others work as accents. This is our favorite color scheme because it combines warm and cold colors with great balance.


If you have a brand, don't be restricted to the general emotional behavior color chart. Be creative, intuitive, and versatile. Look at any industry in the world and there are companies operating almost every single color on the spectrum. Royal Dutch Shell conducts its business in the oil industry and uses yellow and red colors which according to the psychology of colors means it is a loving and happy company. Sounds like hogwash to me. There are many factors that can affect the behavior behind colors so they should all be explored and trialed. Combining different hues and tones can be a great way to enhance the aesthetic presence of your brand. When used correctly, it can blend multiple emotions into one well-fused cocktail of satisfaction.


We're going to expand on this subject in another post where we will outline how we designed the Drop-Ship Packaging branding. I'll highlight all the color variations that were reviewed before landing on our final blue/purple gradient.


Thanks for reading.


Stay Tuned. Stay Safe.


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