Colour Theory for your client

Isobel Anderson

When designing marketing materials or developing brand identity for clients, one of the earliest decisions you will make is the colour scheme/palette for the project. This process can be different based on whether the client already has a ‘brand’, with associated colours, or has no colour scheme meaning you have total freedom.

Often, the client will have a predetermined colour scheme for their brand. You should keep these specific colours, with their Hex Codes, in a document so you can always refer back to them, and import them into Photoshop/InDesign. Adobe has a great tool for generating complementary colours, which you can find at

Find out from the client how much range you have to work with – they may want you working only with their three main colours only, for example. With more freedom, you can work with muting those tones, and add opposite colours. Looking at a colour wheel, colours sitting directly opposite each other (opposite colour pairs) work well together, so this isa good place to start if you are looking to add a new colour to a scheme.

Here’s a brief summary of some colour terminology:

HUE – Hue is essentially another work for colour. Blue is a hue.
TONE – Variations of a hue. For example, pale blue is a tone of the blue hue. MONOCHROMATIC – This means that all the colours are TONES of the same HUE. Monochromatic is often mistaken to mean black and white, which is actually…
GRAYSCALE – The scale of tones between black and white

When working with a client starting afresh, so choosing colours to fit their business, start by thinking of the emotional connotations of colour. The emotional connotations of colour are so important when choosing a colour scheme for a brand. You must think about the message and mood that you are trying to inspire in your target audience. Different colours have different emotional connotations, and they might not always be what you think. For example, while red signals danger and passion, it also has been proven to provoke feeling of hunger. This is why it is commonly used in dining rooms, restaurants, and in restaurant branding!

Emotional connotations of colour:

Blue – calm, tranquility, trust, masculinity

Green – Nature, purity, healing, money, ecological

Yellow – Sunshine, joy, cheerfulness

Red – Danger, passion, intensity, hunger

Purple – Wealth, power, ambition, nobility


Clockwise from top left. Hallmark: Complementary colours yellow & purple. Also, the connotations of purple (royalty, nobility, wealth) match the crown of the logo. Burger King: use complementary colours orange and blue, while using red to inspire hunger. Lacoste: Think how dull this logo would be without the red on that green croc? Great subtle use of complementary colours.