Color Theory for Entrepreneurs: Pick the Perfect Colours for Your Brand

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Picking the right colour for a brand can be a nightmare. When I first started out as a designer, I’d spend hours playing with one of the colour tools from the web, only to end up with a butt-ugly combination.

Colours are extremely important for brand recognition, so it’s important for bootstrapping entrepreneurs to know how to pick just the perfect shades. Here are 6 important tips mixed with just a tiny bit of color theory.

1. Pick Clean Colours

A mistake I often see being made by beginner designers is picking obscure, almost random colour shades. Instead of using clean, bright colours, some rather opt for muddied, dirty, dark shades.

On the left, we can see bright, clean colours. Those on the right have been mixed with grey, producing dirty shades.
On the left, we can see bright, clean colours. Those on the right have been mixed with grey, producing dirty shades.

I used to do this myself when I was starting out. I thought that picking a bright shade of blue, for example, would somehow make my designs less unique. That is nonsense, of course. What sets your branding apart from the rest is the combination of colours rather than the shades themselves.

EconRebel is one of the few sites that successfully use a dirty shade of brown. This is mostly due to extremely minimalistic overall design.
Due to its minimalistic design, EconRebel is one of the few sites that successfully use a ‘dirty’ colour.

2. Use 1-2 Colours

After you’ve created the design in b/w, it’s best to only add one or two colours. Just one too many will render the design cluttered and unprofessional.

Actually, it’s better to use only one colour combined with white and black (or, as we’ll see in #3, grey).

3. Shades Of Grey

Total design “noobs” should avoid using black altogether.

I seldom use 100% black in web design, even for text.
I seldom use 100% black in web design, even for text.

Especially if you need to display lots of text, using a black or dark background should be avoided. Text is a lot more readable when it’s black-on-white. Think books.

Don't mean to bash on this particular app, but black in this case isn't working well. Just toning it down a bit might work.
Don’t mean to bash on this particular app, but black in this case isn’t working well. Just toning it down a bit might work.

4. Use The Eyedropper Tool

This mistake makes your website look really incompetent. And it’s such an easy fix, if you know just a tiiiny bit of CSS. Actually, I talked about this mistake before.

The secret is — well, not that secret, actually. We know a couple of colour spaces. The most important ones in this case are RGB and CMYK.

  • RGB is used for screens. Your logo should be created in or converted into RGB, or it won’t look as intended. If you print it out, it will look somewhat darker and dirtier than on screen. Printers generally suck, but this time it’s not their fault.
  • CMYK is used for print. On screen, these colours might seem much brighter, but they’ll look ok when printed.
Basically all graphics editors have the option to copy RGB values. Some even allow hex. Use it!
Basically all graphics editors have the option to copy RGB values. Some even allow hex. Use it!

5. Use Enough Contrast

Contrast is when two colours are exactly at the opposite sides of the colour wheel. Blah, boring. But this is really the only time you should use Adobe Color and similar tools.

Or, you could just remember these three contrasts:

It's best to pick 2 contrasting colours for your colour scheme — one of the shades should be used as an accent colour.
It’s best to pick 2 contrasting colours for your colour scheme — one of the shades should be used as an accent colour.

Contrasts are quite important. More important than you probably think. Contrast between black and white allows us to read letters on a page. Contrast between an object and the background allows us to see its shape. It’s actually pretty amazing how much our vision depends on contrasts.

6. Give Colours Meaning

It’s not just the eyes that need contrast. Our brain understand similar information differently when presented with different colours.

Did I confuse you for a second? That's because we're used to a certain colour coding. Green means yes, Red mean no. Like a lighthouse.
Did I confuse you for a second there? That’s because we’re used to a certain colour coding.

You can use this effect to your own advantage. Sparingly use the accent colour to point visitors into the way you want them to go. Use colour-coding from other web apps and copy the good practice.

This website is an example of excessive emphasis. Everything seems to be very important.
This website is an example of excessive emphasis. Everything seems to be very important.

7. Don’t Obsess Over Psychological Effects

I dare say that the psychological effects of colours should be, for most part, taken with a grain of salt. No matter how many guides on the supposed science of colours I read, I’m still not convinced that there’s any natural connection between colours and feelings. Could it be that we just experience black colour for luxury products because it’s so widely used for such products?

There is evidence that people are more likely to buy a product in the colour they like, but until we can custom-tailor every logo to each customer, these findings don’t hold any true value. Facebook is blue because Zuckerberg is colour-blind. Red buttons convert better, but only on sites that don’t use much red. If you want to fall in line, use the colours your competitors use. If you’re a trend-setter, invent something new.

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