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Annual Color Report

color is a key communicator
thoughts from three brand building leaders

We asked three leaders in branding and design about the impact of color on their work, how colors affect buying decision and how they make color decisions.

ken carbone chuck rudy scott seymour
Ken Carbone
Co-founder + Chief Creative Officer
Carbone Smolan Agency
chuck rudy
Executive Creative Director
The Brand Union
scott seymour
Chief Creative Office, BFG

How do colors affect the way brand content is interpreted by consumers?

Ken Carbone: The interpretation of color is in the eye of the beholder, and often a very subjective decision. But color is essential in any brand “toolkit.” It delivers quick emotional intent. Does a brand want to be perceived as powerful, comforting, seductive, young, old? Color along with brand voice, type and imagery are key factors in communicating a brand’s identity.

Chuck Rudy: “When building a brand, color is quite possibly one of the most subjective elements. “I don't like blue” or “My boyfriend loves red” or “The purple logo feels oppressive and gloomy.” So many of our thoughts around color seem to emanate from an emotional space within us. It can come from our past, our surroundings and environment, or cultural signals.

Scott Seymour: Qualities of the color are even more important than the color itself. This is often overlooked. The quality of light, saturation, shadows, highlights, ambiance, tonal range, surface texture, and finish are often the details that determine the difference between mediocre and superior execution.

Do colors affect consumers’ buying decisions?

Carbone: It is a factor but no matter what color represents a brand, a customer won't buy a product because of a color alone. However if the color IS the product like a black Moleskin Notebook or white Apple earbuds and reflects a personal expression, color becomes critical. Impulse buyers and budget shoppers present an interesting subset. Think of a fast food burger joint that doesn't use red and yellow. Red rarely loses. I think it's biological. It's the color we have running through our veins. The real problem with red is that no one “owns” red.

Rudy: An easy approach to guiding a brand toward a color is looking at the category. If everyone is doing green, perhaps green is not the best option. In some cases, if all the colors are owned by the competition, bring a spectrum or combination of colors into play. Color gives a brand a chance to stand out rather than fade into a sea of everything.

Seymour: Color in context is key. Color cannot be considered in isolation. What is the environment it will be seen in? What other colors are in close proximity? What is the type of light the color will be viewed in? What is the emotional context of the idea being portrayed? All factors are critical in determining the ideal color solution.

What is the process brands use to choose colors that elicit the emotional response they’d like their products to convey?

Carbone: They are the conventionalists and the conquerors when it comes to color. Many brands retreat to the safety of the primaries; red, blue and, sometimes, yellow. Others will risk the potential rejection of aubergine, persimmon or teal. But with expert branding and rigorous reinforcement these colors will deliver lasting distinction and effective brand recognition in a crowded market. Think Tiffany & Co., UPS or T-Mobile.

Rudy: My suggestion is to support any recommendation for color with as many examples as possible as to why it's the right way to go. Competitive landscape, category norms, the history of the brand, or the audience we're trying to reach, can all be supported with cases that help make the final decision. (Just in case you're curious, I’d go with blue.)”

Seymour: Staying in tune with color is an ongoing process. Competitive color audits, Consumer target color studies, out of category trend watching with close ties to fashion are just a few of the things that contribute to staying in touch with color. Here are a few top of mind color observations as we develop campaigns: Premium and Luxe Communication: Black, Silver, Monochromatic, De-saturated Colors. Value Communication/ Budget Shoppers: Primary Yellow, Bright Orange; Innovation: Silver Metallic, Indigo Blue; Simplicity: White


Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. As Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, he is among America's most respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its balance of substance and style. Under his design ethos to unify, simplify, amplify, Carbone has built a reputation for creating programs for a world-class clientele that includes W Hotels, Morgan Stanley, Christie's, Tiffany & Co., Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, and Canon U.S.A., and institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and the Musée du Louvre. He is the author of The Virtuoso: Face to Face with 40 Extraordinary Talents, published by Stewart Tabori & Chang and co-author of Dialog: What Makes a Great Design Partnership, a book that celebrates his 35-year collaboration with business partner Leslie Smolan.

Chuck Rudy drives innovative problem solving as an Executive Creative Director at The Brand Union in New York. Most recently, he has focused his attention on brands such as Kahlùa, Frïaut;s Vodka, DuPont Lincoln Center, and Coca-Cola. Before merging with The Brand Union (and currently as a JV), he and his teams spent more than five years at Ogilvy & Mather’s BIG. Rudy believes that life and consumer experiences can be improved through design – especially ones with a message that can make the world a better place. A lofty goal, but one he achieved for Helios House, an eco-friendly LA gas station that acts as a “living lab” for sustainable design practices. Other clients: Tribeca Film Festival, The New Victory Theater, May Department Stores, The Bronx Zoo, and a range of start-ups and organizations with a message that transcends their products.

Scott Seymour was first to be tapped by Kevin Meany, CEO and Founder of BFG, to build a true creative shop and mecca for artists and unique minds of many disciplines. He has over 20 years of experience leading award-winning marketing campaigns for fortune 500 companies, in every major category, across all mediums. Originally from Upstate New York, Scott has won more than 50 awards for his creative, design and marketing prowess. Part entrepreneur, collaborator, design aficionado, technology junkie, problem solver, idea champion, and brand builder, he is always on the hunt for what’s next. He has assembled the “Creative Dream Team” – 100 strong – at BFG to back it up. Always up for the challenge, he believes inspiration is everywhere and the big idea is always out there waiting to be discovered.

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