The Startup Growth

Optimize a Logo with Color Psychology Principles

As humans, we’re logical creatures for the most part – we have reasons for the things we do – but we also have intuitive reactions to different elements that we don’t consciously plan out. Case in point: When your mouth involuntarily falls open at the sight of the Grand Canyon (or your brother-in-law’s dancing at a family holiday party) or reaching for a snack absentmindedly after watching a food commercial. This suggestibility ties into startup branding in many ways.

There’s no better example of successful, compelling color use in branding than McDonald’s iconic logo. Not only is the stylized ‘M’ aesthetically pleasing, but the use of bold, appetite-whetting colors (red like ketchup and yellow like mustard or cheese) evoke the right feelings and emotions that play into making someone choose to eat at this fast-food establishment – sometimes against their own better judgement (we’ve all been there).

Branding relies on the principles of color psychology and how certain hues tend to make us feel. And while we’re all pretty unique creatures, in terms of intuitive reaction to color, we’re more alike than we may realize. Blue is calming, purple lends a mysterious quality, and red is deliciously bold and passionate.

Wouldn’t it be smart to apply these same principles to your own logo? I’ll show you examples of color psychology principles in logos from companies you’ve never heard of, plus giant corporations that are entwined with your everyday life. Whether you’re selling coffee, software, or electronics, utilizing color psychology principles can elevate your company’s branding and help you appeal to your customers right off the bat. Here’s how.

Key points for color-focused branding

Red in branding

A study of the most popular restaurants in the US found that 8 of the top 20 – that’s 40% – restaurants feature red as a primary color in their logo and branding (Outback, Red Lobster, P.F. Chang’s, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, Red Robin, Longhorn, Cheddar’s, and Texas Roadhouse).

Red is used to stimulate and attract – as in appetite, hunger, and attention. Our minds are hardwired to pay extra attention to the color red, and when we see a logo in this color, it subconsciously tells us “Stop! Look at this.” In the case of McDonald’s, it’s also a great way to put potential customers in mind of tomatoes and ketchup – two classic hamburger toppings. Twelve South uses it to convey protection and attractiveness, two major components of its aesthetic Apple-compatible cases and products.

Red is a powerful hue to include in your logo and branding because of the inherent authority we associate with it.

Blue in branding

Blue is insanely popular in branding, but in order to be effective, it has to be a good fit for the company. Restaurants don’t often use this color because it isn’t inherently appetizing, and you’d probably never see it in a tanning salon logo, but it’s extremely popular for software- and service-based companies (like Twitter and USPS) that rely on building trust and loyalty with customers and clients.

Real estate is a great example: a trust-based industry that relies on clients building relationships with agents they are confident in. Color can speak to unique features of an area or region as well, as with Sandpoint Idaho Real Estate – the town is famous for its mountain and lake views, as well as its water-based recreation.  That makes blue, in all its shades and depths, the perfect color to drive that relaxing, safe, you-can-trust-me feeling home. 

Yellow in branding

While not as popular as blue or red, yellow is still a color with a lot of influence in branding. The shade or tint is particularly important for this color, as many people find some of the greener yellows to be unappealing, but enjoy a sunny, buttery shade.

Yellow is a smart color to balance the intensity of red. It’s associated with friendliness, happiness, health and speed (contrary to its’ meaning in traffic lights). And yellow is easily seen in daylight, making it a natural choice for any company with a brick and mortar location.

Telehealth startup Lemonaid Health uses it to show users can get friendly healthcare quickly. Cheerios uses it to showcase the happy feeling one might get while eating this childhood favorite, and the heart-healthy rating its earned from the American Heart Association.

Green in branding

Hulu, Spotify, Starbucks and Land Rover can’t be wrong – green is a powerful color that we tend to associate with quality, luxury, convenience, and in more recent years, eco-friendly brands.

Green is associated with freshness, growth, convenience, eco-friendly, elegance, and health. That makes it a “natural” choice for establishments and companies looking to promote any of these values in their branding, like When I Work, a scheduling and organization startup with principles rooted in convenience and growth through efficiency.

Let your font speak for your brand

Choosing the right logo font is next on the list. Imagine if Hulu were written in a cursive, script font in the logo, or if Disney were written in a blocky serif font – wouldn’t it change the entire look and feel of these logos, and not for the better?

Absolutely. Pairing the right color with a fitting font is essential in building a compelling visual brand.

In the simplest terms, your font search will come down to serif fonts (those that feature letters with little ticks or “feet” on the ends) and sans-serif fonts (streamlined letters without serifs). Your own plan for your brand will help you determine whether or not to consider serif fonts. Serif fonts tend to convey formality and a level elegance, while sans-serif fonts are associated with innovation and informality. You’ll likely know right off the bat which is right for your company.

While sans-serif fonts are certainly more popular today, you’re not limited to sans-serif fonts, even if your brand isn’t formal or fancy – Anheuser-Busch, and Wikipedia are examples of big organizations that use serif fonts.

Pick a theme and stick with it

Knowing what your brand’s overall theme is will help your customers recognize and become familiar with your brand quickly, and it will help you too – as you work on building up your visuals, knowing the general theme enables you to narrow down color and font choices considerably and ensure your logo “fits” the vibe you’re going for.

This vibe is what you’ll use as a template to help you style your brand. Does your brand feel retro, hip, formal, fast and easy, fun, or is it part of a niche theme? Make sure all aspects of your branding lock together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. This doesn’t mean everything has to match, but it should absolutely feel cohesive.

As a small company focused on efficiency across the board, your approach to branding should be no different. Know how different colors are perceived by your customers before you commit to using them in your branding. You can always change them up later on, but if you can hit on the right color and font combination from the start, you’ll be that much closer to becoming a successful, well-known brand down the road.