Brand is everything. Fundamentally branding encompasses your entire business, it is your strategy, your product, your purpose, your personality, and your strategic positioning. There is so much behind the scenes that goes into building legal brands, but ultimately on the surface your brand is seen through a series of symbols, images, colours, and text. Is it possible then to rationalise why certain colours, texts, fonts, and symbols mean certain things, and how they can symbolise all that behind the scenes branding that goes on within any business.
Take Apple for example, people don’t like Apple or buy iPhones because they have a little rainbow apple logo with a bite missing. People buy into their business because of their purpose. They challenge the status quo, they exist to inspire and innovate. That’s why they do what they do. But you can’t see the status quo, it’s not a physical thing, it’s an idea. People believe in ideas, and buy into ideas, but it’s not ultimately what you imagine when you think of a brand. You associate first and foremost with what you see. So what do you see? Well you see their products, but after that what you’re left with is a logo, colours, images and a typeface that symbolise their brand.
Let’s take it back to a legal context. You now more than likely don’t have a product. The only visual tools you have to symbolise your brand are the colours you use. Your logo, your typeface and iconography, and your imagery.
Colour For Law Firms
Colour is the first thing anyone will notice when glancing at your brand symbology. It arouses emotions, and can reinforce certain conceptions or messages. Different colours evoke different emotions in people on the whole, and while there are exceptions to personal interpretation, there are generally some pretty common cultural and scientific rules that apply to a large majority of people.
Colour culture is largely determined by your audience and environment. Certain cultures, groups, and nationalities associate colours with certain emotions. Take the colour red for example. In many western societies red is a colour of raw emotion, and can symbolise love, anger, or violence, whilst in many asian cultures red is a colour of luck, prosperity, and happiness. A colour which means one thing to some people can mean something else to others entirely. Cultural beliefs, whether conscious or unconscious, are one of the main reasons why certain brands use certain colours.
Science also plays a role in determining colour selection. The way light is reflected and how our eyes are stimulated by different colours is significant. Take the colour blue for example, our eyes are far less sensitive to blue light, it isn’t as harsh. Because of this it always seems that it is receding into the background, and is therefore seen as more peaceful, tranquil colour.
What do certain colours mean?
Red captures attention. Our eyes are the most sensitive to red light which often makes us perceive red objects before any other colour. It has significant variation in its cultural connotations, but generally it is seen as a raw and powerful emotion. It is the world’s 2nd favourite colour and displays a sense of passion, energy, action, and excitement.
While red can be perceived as a very powerful colour, there are also negative images around the colour and its use in language. Terms like ‘red flag’ or ‘caught red-handed’ spring to mind, whilst it also often symbolises danger.
Blue is the most popular colour in the world. It is normally perceived as a very calming colour, with our perception of serenity around the sea and sky. It is generally the most common used for corporate identities and displays feelings of dignity, peace and strength.
The science behind the colour blue is quite interesting. As blue light is the least harsh on your eyes, your cone cells refract light far more sharply. This makes the lens in your eyes flatten slightly which gives the colour blue a feeling of retreating. Blue colours often fill the background and project a sense of calming, as blues are far less obtrusive than other colours.
Green is normally symbolic of life. It is probably the only colour that has transcended the emotive, cultural, and scientific boundaries of colour to have meaning. To ‘be green’ actually means something, and as such green is synonymous with the environment, sustainability and ecology. The colour green often is associated with being kind, healthy, gentle and honest.
The most luminous colour on the spectrum is yellow, and as such gives off vibes of brightness. Yellow is often associated with creativity, optimism, and hope, and is a very radiant colour. The reason being is that yellow is a combination of both red and green light, the two most sensitive colours to your eyes.
As a note, using colours to excess can deliver the wrong messages. This is most obvious with the colour yellow due to it being the brightest. It can very easily be overwhelming and is therefore often used in contrast with other colours.
Purple is one of the richest colours on the spectrum. It is often associated with being unique, extravagant, and intelligent. Purple is made up of red and blue, which juxtapose to create a sense of balance, whilst because of its rarity throughout history, purple carries a sense of magic and mystery with it. There are however some negative connotations with purple that it signifies decadence, arrogance and power.
Orange, alongside yellow is one of the easiest colours to see in dim light and is therefore seen as a very warm colour, as it contrasts emptiness and darkness. It is often used to portray a sense of frivolity and playfulness, and can be seen as quite bold and confident. However, its status as a colour of warning can be quite alarming, and is often offset with the use of other contrasting colours. Often orange is used as an accent colour to highlight certain objects or items. It is very widely used like this in a design context because of its warming tones.
Pink is quite a tricky colour to use in branding due to the subconscious gender associations between pink and femininity. Formerly, pink used to be a colour associated with men, but this modern development has made it trickier to use pink in branding if your target audience is anything but a feminine audience. However, pink is often perceived as quite a fun colour, and is often associated with playfulness, seductiveness, sophistication, and innovation.
Black, White and Grey:
The absence of any colour at all might seem crazy, but many brands use black, white and grey in their branding. Typically these colours resemble balance. There are shades of both power and purity, and they can be seen as quite modern, stylish, and inoffensive.
Brown is often used as a substitute for black as an accent or feature colour. It is often associated with reliability and security. Brown is a very natural colour, alongside green, and thus it is often used to display comforting natural feelings. Brown is also a fairly neutral colour, similar to grey in that it is quite inoffensive, but it can sometimes be considered quite dull and boring.
The Rules of Colour
While rules and stereotypes exist you can’t say with certainty that certain colours mean or say certain things. Ultimately it comes down to personal perception and point of view. I think red is a colour of blood and violence, but someone else might think it says love and passion. Ultimately, the important thing is being able to rationalise your selection to fit with your brand, your messaging, and with the tastes of your audience.
Furthermore, colours do not need to stand alone. The most important part about colour is its balance and contrast with other colours. Context is everything, so while putting red on black stands out, it loses some of its energy on white, and is overwhelming alongside a bright yellow. Choosing the right contrast of colours and creating harmony between them is hugely important.
Use Cases in the Legal Industry
As expected the most common colour for law firms is blue. It is a colour that displays strength, trust and respect without being too loud. This survey by MH Designs indicates blue is the main colour of choice by some distance. While red is still widely used and is the 2nd most popular colour, it is not massively ahead of the rest of the field, despite being a far more popular colour generally speaking.
Colours like gold and green are used almost to the same degree as red, with the two showcasing tradition, responsibility, and safety. Another interesting trend is larger firms tend to utilise several shades of a single colour, whilst smaller firms more often utilise several colours in their branding and logos. In those multi-colour cases the ‘louder’ colours do tend to have higher usage cases. Red and orange for that reason are used quite heavily as accent colours, as is brown. However, black is the most widely used accent colour, it displays power, formality, and professionalism, and is naturally very harmonising.
The colours with the most limited use tend to be bright yellows, pinks, and purple. Because of its rarity purple can be seen to be artificial, while its main qualities of drawing mystique or magic are not necessarily qualities that legal brands are looking for in their messaging. Yellow on the other hand is very bright and does have energetic and creative tones. Generally it is quite a difficult colour to harmonise, and is therefore rarely used.
Rationalising why certain colours convey certain messages is a hugely important part to your branding as a symbol. Take a look through your brand, its personality, as a product, your values, your organisation. Explore what lines up, what is your key messaging, what fits your brand? Answer those questions first, then explore what combination of colours says those messages the best.
If you are looking for more information about branding as a symbol, whether that be typeface, iconography, imagery, or other aspects of branding, please contact us here for a free consultation!