Beyond Pantone: The Unsung Heroes of Colour Theory in Logo Design


Pantone, while iconic, is but the tip of the iceberg in the vibrant world of logo design. Delving deeper, we uncover the foundational significance of the Issac Newton’s colour wheel, the nuances introduced by Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, and the crucial roles of psychology and cultural connotations in colour choice. For brands, mastering these elements ensures more than just visual appeal; it’s about forging meaningful connections in a globalised world.


It’s a fact that in logo design, the role of colours cannot be overstated. For many, the mention of colours in branding instantly conjures up the Pantone swatch books. It’s the Beyoncé of the colour world: show-stopping, headline-grabbing and undeniably iconic. But, just as Beyoncé wasn’t the first to grace the stages, Pantone wasn’t the inaugural player in the colour game. So let’s dive a little deeper, past the well-trodden paths of the Colour of the Year announcements and explore the unsung heroes and pioneers of colour theory that wield significant power in branding.

The Colour Wheel: Not Just a Rainbow Spinning Frisbee

Before Pantone, there was the colour wheel. Sir Isaac Newton gets the credit for that, though one must wonder if he was just trying to brighten things up after a rather embarrassing apple incident 🤔… Conceived in the 18th century, the colour wheel categorises colours into primary, secondary and tertiary hues.

Brands, especially in their logo designs, have harnessed the power of this wheel. The strategic use of complementary colours, where opposing hues are paired, is a testament to its influence. The red and green synonymous with the festive season is not just a holiday whim; it’s colour theory at its best.

Johannes Itten: The Colour Theorist for Logo Design

Johannes Itten, a Swiss artist and educator, was instrumental in defining and teaching colour contrasts. His seven kinds of colour contrasts, ranging from contrast by hue to contrast of saturation, have become the foundation of colour application in branding. And pretty much everything on Instagram.

Take the ubiquitous monochromatic schemes, a la Apple’s silvery aesthetics. Itten’s contrast of light and dark is at play here, creating a minimalist yet impactful visual.

Josef Albers: The Interaction of Colour

Josef Albers’s book “Interaction of Color” may sound like a rom-com for creatives, but it’s a deep dive into the relativity of colours and how they play off one another. He explained that the way we perceive a colour can change based on its surroundings. Brands need to be wary of this, ensuring that their chosen colours remain consistent in diverse contexts.

Consider the branding of a luxury brand like Tiffany & Co. Their signature robin’s egg blue isn’t just a hue but an experience, and its exclusivity and appeal are maintained across platforms and products.

Psychological Associations

Colour isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s intricately tied to our psyche. Different colours evoke different emotions and reactions. Ever wondered why fast-food chains frequently use red? It’s associated with appetite, energy and urgency.

Brands like Coca-Cola and Netflix leverage red for its attention-grabbing quality. On the other end of the spectrum, blue exudes trust, dependability and authority. That’s why social media brands like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin dress in blue because they want to say “You can trust us with your data!”.

Cultural Connotations: Design with Sensitivity

While red might symbolises passion and love in Western cultures, it represents luck and prosperity in Chinese culture. This makes colour choice in branding not just a matter of design, but of cultural sensitivity and market research.

Brands looking to have a global reach must ensure that their colour choices resonate appropriately across different cultural landscapes. HSBC’s diverse and inclusive campaigns, for instance, incorporate a spectrum of colours, reflecting the diversity of the communities they serve.

The Bottom Line

While Pantone will always be our Queen Bey, it’s high time we put a spotlight on the backup dancers of colour theory. By understanding the broader tenets and applications of colour, web designers are offered a far richer palette of choices. By acknowledging and applying the insights from the often-overlooked stalwarts of colour theory, brands can cultivate deeper connections, drive engagement and ensure they shine in the increasingly crowded marketplaces of today.

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