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Ch 5: Defining Use of Color

As a designer, you can’t always control how your brand is going to be displayed. Case in point: every year Cincinnati hosts the Flying Pig Marathon, an event with an array of sponsors. Those sponsors don’t get to select the colors that will be used to display their logos.

If the board of directors of the Flying Pig decides to use pink for the complementary tee given to every runner and volunteer, with sponsor logos printed in black on the back of the shirt, all sponsors must conform to the black on pink color scheme. Even if your logo colors are sage green and mocha, you must provide a black version of the logo, or it won’t appear on the shirt.

Some organizations’ logos use an approach that’s sometimes called “web 2.0 style” (because it’s associated with companies like the ones pictured here: Suppose you’re the designer for one of these companies, and your boss wants every employee to have a shirt and a cap that display a full-color embroidered company logo. Every time an embroiderer has to change the thread color, the price goes up. When the boss learns that the price of logo embroidery is more than the price of the garments, what do you think the boss will want to do?

As a designer on the branding team, you must anticipate conundrums like these. Many companies opt to create multiple versions of their logo, varying in complexity, for just such occasions… but more about that in a minute. If you’re going to modify the rules for using the logo to adapt to special situations, all the rules must be spelled out in the brand standards manual.

Color definitions
When defining colors, it’s important to consider every application the brand might encounter. Will items be printed in spot color? Reproduced on digital printers? Produced in pixels in applications such as websites? Used as a “bug” in videos? It’s important to define your brand colors using every form you might encounter. This means including several different formulas for creating each color.

Methods for defining colors include:

  • Pantone®: With 1,114 different color choices, the Pantone® Monitoring System (PMS) uses 13 different pigments to create colors.
  • CMYK: Primarily used in printing (including most consumer color printers), this subtractive color system uses mixtures of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black to create colors.
  • RGB: Primarily used in onscreen (digital) applications, this additive color system uses mixtures of Red, Green, and Blue to create colors.
  • Hexidecimal: Used in online applications, hexidecimal (also known as web safe) colors allow more than 16.7 million (16,777,216) color possibilities.

Full color logo
Displaying a logo as it was designed is the optimal situation for any designer. For many, this means using multiple colors, as well as gradients, subtle color changes, and shadowing. Nothing is off-limits (from a color standpoint, anyway…).

When you document the specifications for a full color logo in your brand standards manual, you need to state exactly the colors you used, so they will be reproduced exactly as you intended in future applications.

The easiest solution is to place a graphic “color chart” in the brand standards manual. Additionally, provide files with your logo on a CD, DVD, or on an intranet site or protected website (see Chapter 11 for more about publishing these files). Providing the file minimizes chances of errors induced by those who might try to re-create your work.

Limited color logo
Limited use of color in your logo and other brand identity materials could include spot color  (one-color) or two-color applications. How would you display your logo if your applications were restricted to black and one other color? For non-profit organizations and small businesses, this might be the cost-effective choice. Printing that is restricted to  grayscale/black-and-white applications are common.

Black on white logo
When you consider providing a grayscale or black-and-white version of a color logo, take time to consider design effectiveness. Simply changing the color logo to greyscale using photo editing software is rarely the best answer. Usually the designer needs to change the gray tones, making them either lighter or darker for better definition of the design elements of the logo.

Define the look of a black on white logo with a picture in the brand standards manual, just as you do for color versions of the logo. If necessary, write accompanying text that point out subtleties that may not be immediately obvious, and/or explains the thinking behind the design decisions.

White on black logo
You may be asking yourself, “black on white, white on black… What’s the big deal?” Or you may already understand that black text on a white background is much different than white text on a black background.

For some designers, “I’ll just inverse the black on white logo,” may be an effective solution. However, it’s not necessarily the best answer. For example, suppose your sports team logo is a polar bear. What happens if the polar bear logo is printed on a white game program cover, and you simply invert the logo? That’s right– your polar bear is now a black bear– and you’ve changed the visual definition of the team mascot.

When you’re establishing all possible color variations for the logo, you might need to create an alternate shape to accommodate a more logical visual definition of your logo. For example, the black-on-white polar bear could rely primarily on outlines, allowing the white of the background to fill in the color of the animal, whereas the white-on-black version could use white shapes for the fill, with an implied outline.

What about our polar bear in the Flying Pig scenario? It’s a difficult situation. Obviously you don’t want a black bear, but will a pink bear break your brand identity? Should your standards manual prohibit such possibilities? That’s a call only you can make–but if you don’t address it in your rules, you can be sure someone else in the organization will make their own rule.

Many brand standards manuals include specifications for different colored backgrounds, allowing a range of shades for brand-specific colors before they becomes unusable. Or you might need an alternative like a logo that does not include the polar bear, for occasions when correct color reproduction of your logo just isn’t possible.

However, if you create variations of the primary brand identity to be used in special situations, stay alert for inadvertent changes in the full “brand message.” Consult with other members of the branding team to be sure you are not creating new problems

Supporting color palette
Many brand identity systems also include supporting colors, accent colors, or spot colors that are not necessarily part of the logo. These supporting colors assist in providing visually rich complements to the complete brand identity.

In your brand standards manual, consider giving all colors unique names (in addition to defining the RGB, CMYK, Hexidecimal, and/or Pantone® values). Naming colors used helps make these choices memorable for those charged with implementing them in future applications.

Coming soon: more on using patterns, and using photos.

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