Articles

The pain and misery of accent colors

Strategic design

The careful selection of a primary color is an effective tool for brand recognition. Yet, remarkably few brand owners actually do this. Sooner or later, every brand owner finds himself saying: “We need more colors!”

It seems like a small favor to ask. Maybe you need more colors in PowerPoint diagrams, color-coding categories, products or services. That is when trouble starts. Within a few months, your brand will lose control of the colors and all the potential equity will be lost.

Look instead at the primary color as a rich and flexible palette, even though you may be the lucky owner of a monocolor identity. First of all, expand the roles of black and white. Let us suppose your primary color is Pantone 032 red. Create four extra “colors” by defining when to use red on black, black on red, red on white and white on red. This will be enough to handle most layout challenges. Then add three shades of a neutral, warm or cool grey. Still not convinced? Then add three shades of the red. Still not convinced? Then add outlined, striped or dotted versions of the red and the greys. Still not convinced? Then do not blame the colors — most likely you have typography issues. Create information hierarchies with type sizes, weights, placement and case and there will be no need for accents.

Coca-Cola is the most iconic monocolor owner in the world. Still, they recently made an overhaul of their packaging range. Guess what? They increased the amount of primary red and decreased the accents. There are 16,777,216 possible RGB color values, but I dare you to pick just one.

 

Words by Carl Johan Näs, ECD at Lynxeye Studios, London

 

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