The Science of Design


Wes is an advanced honors graduate of West Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a freelance graphic designer with six years of experience and currently the motion graphics artist for Arizona startup EventKey. Wes is a Graphic Information Technology student at Arizona State University.
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Have you ever wondered why a certain brand uses the colors that it does? There’s a science of color and how color influences the way we think. Color Psychology can help brands determine what colors to use to evoke certain emotions from the consumer. This works in conjunction with color theory to create beautiful combinations of colors that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye. There’s plenty of science that goes into the design process, from color choices, to typography use that can help create a successful design.

Color Psychology is the science and understanding of how humans interpret the colors they see. Every color has ideas attached to it, and those ideas can influence how we feel when we see those colors in logos, advertisements, movies, etc. Colors can be broken up into two categories: warm colors and cool colors. Warm colors, like red, orange and yellow, can subconsciously evoke feelings of passion, happiness, enthusiasm, power and energy. Cool colors, like green, blue and purple, evoke calm feelings of stability, professionalism and trustworthiness. I’ll cover some of colors, and the general meanings associated with them.

  • Red: Red stimulates energy, raises blood pressure and can inspire action. The color inspires a sense a protection (like fire fighters) and confidence. It is a strong color that draws more attention than any other color.

  • Orange: Orange Stimulates activity, inspires social behavior, warmth (think fire), warning and protection.

  • Yellow: Yellow stimulates mental processes. It can activates memory (your yellow highlighter for example) and is the happiest color.

  • Green: Green is a soothing color. It’s mentally and physically relaxing and brings a sense of harmony.

  • Blue: Blue is a cool color, opposed to red and orange being warm colors. It exudes calmness, trustworthiness and dependability.

  • Purple: Purple has a history as a royal color, because only the most wealthy could afford it ages ago. It inspires creativity and spirituality. It’s an uplifting color.

  • Black: Black is a neutral color (actually the absence of all color). It’s powerful and intimidating. It represents authority (the police) and can evoke strong emotions. In large areas, it can be quite overpowering.

  • White: White is also a neutral color. It can symbolize new beginnings and purity. It encourages simplicity and cleanliness.

  • Gray: Gray is a refined and sleek color. It is the color of intellect (graymatter). It’s long lasting, but also creates expectations.

Keep in mind that these are not the end all be all of color interpretation. Each culture has different meanings for colors. For example, White in western countries might mean purity and innocence, but in eastern countries, white might mean death and mourning. When you are deciding on colors for your brand, it might be helpful to think about how your target audience might perceive your colors on a subconscious level.

With these meanings in mind, take a look at some popular brands. Facebook uses blue as its primary color. It’s trying to portray itself as a trustworthy and dependable social network. A safe but social network. Spark Skill too uses blue to portray a dependable learning experience and a trustworthy learning environment where you can develop technology and design skills. Color psychology is helpful in putting together a color scheme for a design project; company branding specifically benefits significantly from putting together a solid color scheme.

With color psychology in mind, creating the actual color scheme is in the realm of color theory. Color theory is a practical set of concepts that determine good use of colors and color combinations. I’ve created a short video tutorial explaining different color combinations.

Creating a color scheme can be a tall order, and many hours can be spent finding the perfect combination of colors. For a company (or personal) brand, I would stick to 2-3 colors, so things don’t end up looking too busy. Buffalo Wild Wings is a good example of a strong color scheme. They use their company Yellow and Black as their 2 primary colors. Their company Gray and White are highlight colors. To help you create color schemes, and explore other people’s color schemes, I recommend It’s free and easy to use. If you have a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud, you can also sync your saved color palettes and they will be accessible directly in Illustrator and Photoshop. Alternatively, you can use the provided HEX, CMYK and RGB codes or take a screenshot of the colors and paste it into your document.

Another strong aspect of branding is the typography. Typography refers to the appearance of type in a design. For branding, type can be a part of the logo itself, the name of the company, and a subheading if there is one. It’s important to choose a fitting typeface for your brand. Type can be separated into a few categories. We’re going to focus on the biggest two: Serifs and Sans Serifs.

Serif fonts refer to any font that has serifs on them. Serifs are the little accents on fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond. Most books are printed in serif fonts. They are fancy and refined fonts, that have a sense of age that come with them. Popular brands that use serif fonts are Rolex, Huffington Post and Mercedes-Benz. These are all companies that display a high social class, refined quality, and expensive taste.

Sans Serif (often called Sans) fonts are the fonts that do not have serifs. Sans is French for without, so sans serif is literally without serif. Sans fonts are most often used for bodies of type read online. This blog post is written in Arial, a common sans serif typeface. Other popular Sans fonts are Helvetica, Gotham and Proxima Nova. Sans typefaces are often seen as clean and minimal. They have been used more so in the digital age, where it is usually easier to read a sans typeface than a serif typeface on a screen. Google changed its wordmark logo from a serif to its new sans typeface in 2015 to make it more modern. Other popular brands using Sans typefaces are Adidas, Facebook and FedEx.

What kind of feelings are you trying to evoke? Are you a suit and tie profession that wants to look professional? You might consider serif typefaces rather than sans serif ones. If you’re a startup tech company, you might consider a more modern sans serif typeface instead of a serif font. Are these hard set rules? No, definitely not. These are general guidelines and practices that the industry has created and changed over time.

For your brand, it might be helpful to mix and match typefaces, type weights, colors and sizes. Spark Skill has a heavy bold typeface on the word “Spark” and a lighter thin version of the same typeface for “Skill.” The “Skill” in Spark Skill is also in the brand blue. The layout of the type brings emphasis using contrast to the first word because of its weight. The second word is characterized by its color, emphasizing it in a different way. These types of emphasis can be achieved by using a serif font and a sans serif font together, using different weights of the same font, or changing the size of fonts. For example, the weight and size of BIG in the example below brings more emphasis to it.

Big News, Big is Bold and Capitalized

By changing the typeface of a subheading, you can reinforce a design style, like in this example.

Hipster Company Using a Modern, Tech-Focused Font

By using a sans serif typeface as the heading, we keep a modern style, but by using a refined serif font, we accent our sans serif and bring in that aged style that people often identify as hipster.

There’s a lot of flexibility in using color and typography to create a good logo. A solid combination of typography and color can create an aesthetic and memorable brand. These combinations are what make each brand unique and different from each other. It’s important to document guidelines for your brand for this reason. If your company uses #0D487E as its primary color, then you wouldn’t want a designer to use another shade of blue besides that one. For this reason, companies create branding guidelines; a page, or booklet containing all the information related to the brand such as color palette, typography, alternate color schemes, logo use, and other relevant information. When you are designing your brand, think about ways that you want to see the brand used. Is it okay to change the logo color to a bright pink? Can a designer use a different typeface other than the one that your brand uses? This complete branding package helps control usage of a brand’s identity and maintains consistency across all media platforms.

Hopefully you’ve picked up some solid tips to help you create a solid brand for yourself, or for a client. Graphic design is a science and there are tons of nuances and exceptions to every rule; the best part about being a designer is knowing the rules, and how to bend and break them to create awesome designs. Spark Skill teaches students these fundamentals of design in a hands-on, technology summer camp environment.