4 Things to Do BEFORE Picking a Color Palette

color brand strategy

When someone is building a new brand, one of the first things they think about is possible color palettes.

Makes sense!

After all, you can’t really start designing until you have some colors to work with. So to get started, you pick a few colors.

Maybe you like the color blue. Or maybe someone once told you that green makes people feel calm.

But you’re forgetting something. Something very important.

You are not the audience for your brand. Your customers are.

Your brand doesn’t exist to make you happy—it exists to communicate a message and position you memorably in the minds of your customers.

Over 70% of human communication is nonverbal. Your brand’s colors are a vital piece of your brand’s nonverbal communication. You don’t want to be changing these constantly over time. You want to get them right the very first time.

So before you get lost in the infinite rabbit hole of color combinations, do these four things first.

Brand Attribute Clustering

How do you want your brand to make people feel? How would you describe your brand’s voice?

No, really. Put it into words.

Brand Attribute exercises seem superficial and “woowoo” but ultimately they are one of our greatest tools for evaluating the emotional aspects of brand.

Here's how to do it:

Begin by compiling a list of 20 adjectives that describe your brand’s voice and your brand’s feeling. Two lists of 20 adjectives, resulting in 40 total descriptors.

Then work with your team to cut the list down to a top 5 for each category.

Once you have a 5 item shortlist for both your brand’s voice and your brand’s feeling, rank-order them based on which is most essential.

Then list out your top 3 attributes for each category. Print them out. Put them on your wall. Reference them over and over and over again.

Once you have your core attributes, color decisions become much easier. Using the example below (Focused, Empowered, Light) you can already begin to visualize how a palette for this brand might look.

This is your core criteria for evaluating any possible color decisions.

Example of brand attribute cluster from one of our Brand Manuals

User Persona

Before you do any significant amount of design work, you need to develop a user profile.

How can you possibly make sure that your brand will appeal to your audience if you haven’t taken the time to specifically, narrowly define who your audience is?

User Personas are the foundation of design thinking.

Design thinking is an innovative approach to problem-solving that puts the user first to create customer-centered products and services.

A persona is a fictional character that represents a type of customer or user of your service or product. This fictional character is created based on what you’ve learned about your real customers and users—and the themes or common characteristics you have observed that many of them share in common.

You should build a User Persona before ANYTHING ELSE. Before colors, before logos, before even naming your company.

Start with your customer. Make every decision with them in mind.

The goal of an effective brand is to make your customers feel like it was designed for them. Not for the business owner.

The template we use for the first User Profiling exercise in our Brand Workshops. If you'd like a free copy, shoot me an email at

Competitor Research

Branding is one of your most valuable tools when it comes to staking out a memorable position for yourself in the market.

Messaging and design trigger instant responses in the minds of your customers. The key is making sure these instant responses are helpful (aka connected to your value proposition) and distinctive.

Make sure you take time to look at the competitors in your space—whether that’s local or in a specific vertical—and see what kind of colors they’re using.

Chances are, over 60% of brands in your space will be using similar colors.

You see this all the time in certain niches. Take yoga studios, for example. Pull up the closest 5 yoga studios to you right now on Google Maps. I guarantee you at least 3-4 of them will be using green as a primary color.

And this makes sense at face value. After all… Yoga studios are about wellness, life, vitality. Green is perfect!

But branding isn’t just about communicating what you do. Branding is about communicating what makes you different.

Color is a vastly underutilized tool to subconsciously differentiate yourself in the mind of your audience.

Don’t be afraid to break the trend. It’ll help you stand out.

Consider Accessibility and Contrast

While the first three points were more strategic, this is a technical point. But woe unto you if you disregard it.

Many users have limited vision. I myself am colorblind (along with more than 15,000,000 other Americans).

You need to make sure you understand web accessibility guidelines when you’re thinking about possible color palettes.

Make sure that you have a balance of both light and dark colors in your palette to allow for optimal contrast.

Here is a free tool to test out the contrast of your possible color options.

It is recommended that you have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for most text on the web.

And please, on behalf of all the colorblind people… Never put red text on a black background (or vice versa).

One last note: take a moment to learn about the 60-30-10 rule of color. You will thank me later.

A visual demonstration of colors which provide adequate contrast