How to Use Color and Contrast to Make Your Message Stand Out

A brand is defined by the colors they use. It can say a lot about your business, products, or services. Understanding the way color works and how to properly express what your brand stands for will help you stand out amongst the competition.

Using Color to Shape Mood

Colors evoke various responses from different people. Even the shade of color has an effect on human reaction. Why not take advantage of color psychology to influence your customers? You know what message you want your brand to create thanks to my previous article, now let’s find the colors to match!

    • Red — Shades of red vary in representation. It is an energetic and attention-grabbing color, but can also be rather romantic. Either way, red is passionate and makes your heart race. It is a popular color to use for food, technology, cars, and agriculture, but should be avoided with finance, airlines, or energy companies.
    • Orange — Orange isn’t a very popular choice with consumers, but brands love how fun the color can be. It combined the cheerfulness of yellow and the boldness of red to make for an exciting color. Some even associate the color with good value. Suggested industries for orange are technology and health care, but most other industries should probably avoid it.
    • Yellow — Yellow is a positive and energetic color. It communicates hope and encourages creativity. Most brands use yellow because of how eye-catching it is. Food, energy, and housing industries love it, but more security and trust related industries like airlines, finance, cars, and technology may want to stray.
    • Green — Green is one of those interesting colors that serve a lot of purposes. Wealth and prestige can be related to the green in money, but the use of green has grown more popular in environmental causes (hence the phrase “going green”). If you want to be associated with calmness and serenity, try a lighter shade of green. This color is popular for industries ranging from energy and technology to finance agriculture.
    • Blue — Other than red, blue is one of the most popular choices for brands — and for a good reason. Blue is trustworthy, dependable, and responsible. It puts consumers at ease. Any industry that was discouraged from using yellow may want to think about using blue instead!
    • Purple — Purple is a strange color. For some, it is sophisticated and borderline royalty driven. For others, it is mysterious and spiritual. Either way, purple is a unique color that finance, technology, and healthcare industries may want to consider, but other industries may want to think twice.
    • Brown — Shades of brown take us back to our roots. Since it is earthlike in nature, it embodies simplicity, but also strength and durability. It isn’t a very well-liked color with consumers though, so most industries avoid it. If you’re in the clothing, car, or agriculture business, this color may be right up your ally.
    • Black — Black is expensive, valuable, timeless, and overall sophisticated. Great for top-of-the-line clothing, technology, and car companies, but unless you’re in the business of selling luxury, I wouldn’t recommend using it.
    • White — White is that overall soft and homely color. Healthcare loves it for its cleanliness, and businesses that work with children like its purity.

For more on color psychology, check out this article.

Creating a Contrast

Contrast is an effective way to highlight important content. The greater difference between the colors you use, the more your message stands out. If you want a quick way to engage and convert, try one of the contrasts below:

  • Saturation — Great to use for design aspects that do not require a lot of emphasis.
  • Light/Dark — Colors tend to stand out when they are lighter or darker than the rest.
  • Extension. By expanding one color versus another, it is emphasized and stands out.
  • Hue — The further colors are from each other on the color wheel, the higher the contrast will be.
  • Complements — Complementary colors (red/green, yellow/purple, and orange/blue) make highlighted themes pop when used together.
  • Simultaneous — When two side-by-side colors interact and change our perception, it allows you to control the message you want to allude. Most intense when the two colors are complementary.
  • Warm/Cool — Tones can control context.Warm colors are generally associated with energy while cooler colors represent calmness and security.

Color is not the only way to use contrast! It has other uses too — size, shape, and more.

Building an Atmosphere

Colors aren’t just for enhancing different aspects of consumer and client behavior. Colors also create atmosphere and is an important way to take your messaging to the next level.

Tints and shades of different colors have just as powerful of a tool as pure colors do. Lighter tints of colors are more peaceful and less energetic. Some may even consider these tints feminine, which is great for spa owners. On the other hand, darker shades communicate risky and more controversial moods.

Want to relax and calm your guests? Use softer shades of green and blue, as they’re considered more therapeutic and restorative. On that same note, since red increases heart rate, it should be used with action oriented features like retail sales signs.

Remember that in-between colors are just as effective as pure shades. Green on its own may be energetic and fresh, but lighten it and mix it with blue and you suddenly have a soft and tranquil color that the less-vigorous respond well to.

Tips to Enhance Color Use

Picking out the perfect color or contrast to tell your message can be really exciting, but it is not a matter you should take lightly. Here are some tips and hints for future decision making:

    • Even though companies usually stick to one or two main colors, you will more than likely use more over time. Color schemes should reflect your main colors and overall brand image.
    • Green is the easiest color for the eyes to process, but is also one of the colors most affected by vision deficiency (the other being red). Be wary when using either color.
    • When you’re creating a call-to-action, pick colors that contrast from the rest of your color scheme.
    • If you’re having trouble deciding what colors to pick, consider using A/B testing. That way, data will guide you to the color that works best for your needs!

As with all design aspects, colors and contrasts influence in several different ways. No suggestion works the same every time, so let us know what colors worked best for you! (Don’t forget to include your mishaps too.)

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Bogdan Rancea

Bogdan is a founding member of Inspired Mag, having accumulated almost 6 years of experience over this period. In his spare time he likes to study classical music and explore visual arts. He’s quite obsessed with fixies as well. He owns 5 already.