Choosing Brand Colours: Consistency vs digital first

Written by Matt Keogh on 1st May 2019

(Last updated 7th June 2019)

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When choosing brand colours from scratch, it’s best practice to consider how consistent that colour appears across different devices, browsers and print. 

One method of creating consistent brand colours is to choose a Pantone colour, then use the RGB and CMYK values that Pantone state on their swatch books. Pantone calculate these values by measuring spectral data using a Spectrophotometer.

After a useful exchange with Pantone support, I can confirm that the RGB value is based on the sRGB colour profile. After all, as discussed previously, RGB means nothing without a profile.

The consequence is that if you choose a Pantone colour, then use their sRGB value to translate that colour to screen, that colour may well be miles off if the screen isn’t using an sRGB profile. 

Of course this isn’t a new problem, and using the RGB/CMYK values provided by Pantone should never be relied on without testing. But it is something else to throw into the already complicated mix now that wide gamut screens with non sRGB profiles are becoming more common.

Choosing brand colours: consistency, or shoot for the stars? 

All of this brings up an interesting question. What if you’re choosing new colours for a brand and really want to use the kinds of bright, saturated and punchy colours that are only available on screens? Often these colours are simply not available in CMYK so come out desaturated and duller. Taking that a step further, what if you want to choose colours that work beautifully on a wide gamut display but aren't available on most peoples sRGB displays?

Long gone are the days where a customer will only interact with a brand offline. In fact, their first and most regular experience of a brand will more commonly be online. Perhaps, in an age where customers will interact with brands online more than offline and where wide gamut displays are increasingly prevalent, the aim shouldn’t be for consistent colours, it should be for the best colour on each medium. 

The alternative would be choosing a brand colour based on what will render most consistently across mediums. For example, dialing down the contrast of a 'hot pink', because we know that it won’t translate to print. The danger here is that you end up watering down your vision and choosing a colour which works ‘OK’ across everything but doesn’t ‘sing’ on anything. This mirrors a concept that web designers will be familiar with - graceful degradation. Browsers release new features at different rates so if your design calls for a feature that isn’t supported there are two broad options. You either choose to design to the lowest common denominator so that your design works consistently across all browsers. Or you choose to reach for the stars and design for the best experience on each, accepting that your design looks and behaves differently across different browsers.

Hot pink
Saturated bright colours work on RGB screens (left) may become much duller on printed CMYK materials (right).

Challenging the status quo

As a design and brand agency, we’re often choosing brand colours that lend themselves to being consistent across different mediums. Afterall we appreciate the need for brand consistency. However, it’s our job as designers to challenge the status quo and always ask these kinds of questions. With more brands being largely experienced online, it’ll be interesting to see the effects on brand identity design over the coming years.

This article was posted in Design by Matt Keogh

  • Matt Keogh

    Matt Keogh

    Matt is focused on strategic vision and ensuring this is followed through to exquisite execution. Having been an award winning designer since 2001, he knows how to put the user first while building stakeholder alignment in order to deliver key objectives. It’s this passion for understanding people that enables him to design the best experiences for them. @matsaukeo

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