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Like so many houses on so many home makeover shows, some business’ websites simply need a makeover. Getting a website redesign doesn’t mean that the business itself doesn’t deliver amazing work, they could even be the best in their industry, it just means they aren’t articulating it digitally...yet!
While there are many aspects to a successful makeover, the most important is color choice. Think back to those TV shows. Arguably the largest change in the house with a purple exterior and bright teal accents was the switch to mature, subdued pebble-tones accenting a calm, cool columbia blue. Or the living room done in carnation pink with lemon-yellow daisies transformed to buttercream trim on pale moss walls.
Whether dealing with a house or a website, color is the most visually transformative aspect of any makeover. While content, layout, and user experience are inextricably tied to great digital design (I can’t even begin to explain how important each of those are...), the use of color will be our focus today in examining digital metamorphoses.
From Craptacular to Banktacular!
When we were approached by Central Florida Postal Credit Union to give their brand and their site a facelift, we had our work cut out for us. After initial strategy meetings, we were able to suss out what they wanted their digital brand to say about them: CFPCU is reliable and caring. That meant that a visit to their site needed to be enjoyable, educational, and easy to navigate.
Unfortunately, their old site did not relay that clearly.
While the colors present aren’t the most clash-worthy I’ve ever seen (they’re simply a muted variation of primary colors), those colors say soft, calm harmony as opposed to trusted, attentive, and dependable.
There are some colors, when paired together, that just look good. They make sense, they match. There are also those colors which, put side by side, make your eyes burn. Ok, maybe not actually burn, but you know what I mean.
The question is: why? Why do certain color combinations look serene or exciting and others garish or completely boring? I want to explore the why of color combinations, some of the science and some of the psychology and how you, as a business person, can put those colors to work for you.
Covering Some Color Basics - Intro to Color Theory 101
Before we dive into the “why” of certain color schemes and how to use them to speak to your potential clients, let’s cover some color basics to make sure we’re all on the same page. COLOURlover pros and veterans, feel free to jump to the next section.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll be using the Red/Yellow/Blue color model as the primary colors on our subtractive color wheel (this subtractive wheel is what painters and artists use). For a look at the use of the Cyan/Magenta/Yellow color model used by printers, feel free to take a look at our recents posts discussing RGB versus CMYK conversions.
The Red/Yellow/Blue color model is what most of us grew up learning. Arranged in correspondence with the wavelengths of light, the original color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton. We wrote a complete history of the various color wheels recently, if you are curious and want to know more.
The color wheel that most are familiar with usually looks like this:
Secondary colors on this wheel are made by combining 2 primary colors. Likewise, tertiary colors are formed by mixing a primary and a secondary hue.
Source: Eva Williams
The logo design process is intriguing, both from the designer perspective and from a client’s point of view. That said, it is a very different process depending on which vantage point you are looking from!
On the client side, I’m told the whole operation tends to go something like this:
• Meet with the designer
• Designer goes and does some “stuff”
• Poof! Logo options appear!
• If needed, meet with the designer again to go over any changes
• Designer does some more “stuff”
• Poof! I have a logo!
Well, COLOURlovers, I’d like to let you in on what that process looks like for your designer. Because, as any designer will tell you, we’d love to have logo creation be as simple as saying “Poof!” But, it’s a wee bit more difficult than that. I want to peel back the curtain to demystify how we move from a blank page to a logo that works on Blackberries, billboards, and business cards. Go ahead; you’re allowed to peek.
Step 1: Initial Consultation
When a client comes to us saying they need a logo designed, the first thing we do is sit down for an initial chat. In this earliest meeting, we aim to figure out what kind of logo they are looking for.
Do they simply want a logotype or a pictorial mark? How about something that combines both?
I’d like to start with something of a disclaimer. Much of the work we do at Rise is in the digital realm. We strategize, design, and build primarily for the web. We will, however, have clients come to us needing a new business card designed or a logo redesigned or a mailer constructed. What all of those share in common is that they must be able to be seen, not just on a computer screen but printed out. And while we are diligent in making that translation from web to print, every once in a while the conversion is a little bumpy.
So, when that business card comes back looking red instead of magenta or dull blue instead of bright cobalt, what gives? Does the printer not know what they’re doing (assuming you use a professional printer)? Are your electronics scheming against you (sometimes I swear my computer gives me funny looks)? Are your eyes finally giving out on you?
Rest assured, none of these is likely the issue. More often than not, issues at the printer usually have to do with 2 things: the difference between the RGB palette belonging to computer screens and the CMYK palette at the printer and image resolution.
This is an early color photograph taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii as part of his work to document the Russian Empire. Three black-and-white photographs were taken through red, green and blue filters. The three resulting images were projected through similar filters. Combined on the projection screen, they created a full-color image. Source: Wikipedia
We’ve all seen it. We go for a visit to the doctor and the walls are a lovely, quintessential pale mint green. We go to grab a burger and milkshake somewhere and the decor boasts the archetypal red, black, white, and chrome (I’m looking at you, Five Guys, Checkers, McDonald's, Steak ‘n Shake, and In-N-Out Burger!). We sit down with a banker, lawyer, or sales representative and are surrounded by dark wood and conventional creams.
(right column: medical-logos.com & logodesignteam)
It seems that every industry has its color cliches, its norms. The question for up-and-coming businesses is whether to conform to these colorful essentials or break tradition and stand out from the crowd. Both options have their positives and negatives.
Branching Into a New Color Palette
There are certainly benefits to thinking outside the corporate color box. Not least of which would be that a new business would be easy to distinguish from others in its niche.
If every other beachside hotel in Florida makes use of pale sea-foam greens, muted oranges, and faded pinks, an upstart oceanfront bed and breakfast might do well to opt for fully saturated sunrise hues. And if every dentist office in the tri-state area chooses iconic mint green for its soothing effects, perhaps the new dentist in town could stake its claim through calming lavender tones. As we’ve established, most businesses fall neatly in either a red or blue pile. So, going for anything outside those two hues instantly lends itself to differentiation and notice.
Using Stereotypes to Your Advantage
Any small business owner will tell you that just getting their company doors open is a feat unto itself. And that doesn’t include branding, colors, or any of the things that us creatives consider fun. It’s just filing all the appropriate paperwork and jumping through the various hoops and red tape associated with opening a business. It makes sense then that so many businesses tend toward the colors already in use in their field. After all, those businesses have already gone through the branding gauntlet and come out successful on the other side.
Another aspect to the trend towards the familiar comes in catering to the needs of the consumer. If dark blue tends to be the color of financial institutions, customers come to expect it. When they enter a business exhibiting the colors common to a particular business, it reinforces for the customer that they’ve found exactly what they were looking for.
So, what do you think, lovers? Is it worth the risk to stand outside the substantial kingdoms of red and blue or is paying homage to the tried-and-true hues a better business decision? Are there any color cliches in the small business world that I didn’t talk about?
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In only four short days those of us in the United States of America will be celebrating the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Along with all the history, reverence, and jubilation that accompanies such a commemoration, anyone who takes a simple trip to the grocery store will also find themselves surrounded by the familiar and patriotic hues of red, white, and blue. From the bank to the post office to the local shopping center, those three colors will be on full display.
While it is expected that businesses large and small will smatter their storefronts and window displays with the colors of United States’ federal banner, what about the rest of the year? What might those colors convey on non-holidays both solo and together?
As it turns out, the same colors that stir feelings of fidelity to country during federal holidays fare well the rest of the year as well.
Last September we posted a blog on The Colors of the Web. In that article, which analyzed where brands from the top 100 sites in the world fell on the color spectrum, the color red ran a close second to none other than blue.
Red, like blue, is a powerful color, easily identifiable and evocative. As a primary color, it is direct, easy to recognize, and maintains the integrity of the hue across many mediums. Culturally, red elicits strong emotions: in the West it is often the color associated with passion, love, warmth, vitality, and danger; in the East, red is often the color of prosperity and joy.
For businesses, red is a strong choice and one used by corporations large and small. Some well known brands that use red to great effect include:
Let me paint a picture for you. You’ve just started working with a new designer. You sat down with that person, explained all of your dreams for the design, and left the meeting feeling like you were really on the same page. Then the next time you meet with them, they present a design that is completely different than what you expected. It’s not necessarily a bad design, but it is definitely different than what you described.
This is what I like to call a “lost in translation” moment. And it’s exactly what inspired me to create this guide on translating “design talk.”
Why is there a disconnect?
Many designers received their formal education in traditional art. Yes, even the digital artists! For example, my lead designer, Frank Candamil, has degrees in Art and Digital Media. Because of his background, I know that when he says something like “hue” or “tint,” he’s talking about the classic definitions of the words. However, when a client says a term like that, it’s unclear if they are referring to the definition or a colloquialism.
Common design terms and meanings
After talking with our Brand Mangers and Designers at Rise, I compiled a list of terms that we hear our clients say all of the time and can be misinterpreted. Let’s explore the terms and what they mean to each party.
Ah, the mailer. It is a rare business that hasn’t utilized this tried and true form of advertising. I’ve even used it at Rise and we’re a digital agency. For small enterprises looking to reap its benefits at the local level, the United States Postal Service has recently rolled out a new service that may harness the mailer’s return on investment in a powerful way. While that information is excellent, I want to also highlight the importance of effective color choices for mailers. No sense sending out an ineffective mail piece, after all. Even if it’s super easy and cheap to do.
Effective Color Choices for Mailers
When a business is ready to start sending out mailers to the surrounding areas the question then becomes: how to design the mailer? Color plays an important role here, but it’s important to make sure it doesn’t overpower.
Some things to keep in mind when choosing colors for a mailer:
If budget is a concern, good ol’ black type on white paper is practical and legible. A little plain, but not a bad choice all the same. If possible, using at least the minimum of colors (two = minimum to me) is better. It gives you an accent color to work with and can look better than going color-crazy which is both expensive and can look unprofessional.
In branding for small businesses, the importance of color continuity across mediums cannot be overstated. Color is one of the first ways a person identifies a company’s brand. Making sure those colors are seen as often as possible in as many spaces as possible is one of the best ways for an organization to increase brand recognition, build trust, and encourage loyalty in the long-term.
One of the best examples of branding through color is from one of our clients at Rise, Hart & Huntington Orlando Tattoo Company. Rise is my Orlando web design company whose main focus is to engage our client's communities through the digital space.
Who is H&H?
Founded in 2007, Hart & Huntington Orlando Tattoo Company is a division of celebrity motocross and off-road truck racer Carey Hart’s Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company. If that sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Hart & Huntington Vegas featured on A&E’s television series Inked. H&H Orlando delivers a clean, professional tattoo shop staffed with the best artists in the world.
After our initial meetings with H&H Orlando owner Chris Turck, we set about the business of honing in on look and feel that he and his team wanted to project to the world.
One of the ways we work with clients to finalize their overall design, including color choice, is to mock up one or two mood boards. A mood board is a poster that represents what a website may look and feel like. It isn’t an actual homepage design but gives the impression, through color, text, and images, of how one might want their site to look and the emotions or moods they want it to evoke.
For H&H Orlando we created two very different mood boards.
One, a bright, playful take, reminiscent of some of the excellent artwork created by their talented staff.
There is a plethora of information out there from former CEO's and case studies about the many reasons why businesses fail or how to avoid failure of your small business, bad color and design is not usually one of the reasons given, but with more and more businesses existing exclusively online, color, design, and UX/UI is an issue for businesses today. It's no longer enough just to have a website. Your website is directly connected to the success of your business, and it needs to be treated as such with frequent updates, quick reactions to changing markets and, especially, the changing demands of your customers.
Today, we look at the color, design of a few companies that failed last year, and the reasons why. These highlighted companies were featured in the The New York Times article, How Six Companies Failed to Survive 2010. While many of the reasons they failed span beyond design an usability it's always a good idea to keep yourself familiar with all the pitfalls of running a business. You can read the full explanations and find out more about each company in the original article on nytimes.com.
Wesabe.com - Mr. Hedlund acknowledges, Mint had a better name and better design and was easier to use.“We wanted to help people,” he said, “but it was too much work to get that help.” - nytimes.com