Posted on Nov 16, 2018 in Blog, Fundamentals

Color is the foundational and indispensable element of visual branding. Color comes from light, “that first phenomenon of the world,” as said by the famous color theorist, Johannes Itten.


  • distinguishes mood and style
  • symbolizes trends, ideas and traditions
  • lets you identify without reading (think hospital wayfinding signage and the right team bench)

Most older schools adopted official colors in a bygone era, and their original meaning may be lost in the mists of time. But it’s fair to say we see lots of maroon, navy blue, forest green and black. Newer schools may use these best-loved choices to keep company with the well-established private school family. Pardon me for saying, but depending on how they’re used, these colors, on their own, can look dated and out of keeping with the true nature of your institution.

But, since you’re not about to replace your official colors even if they’re out of fashion, how you use this element of branding needs a strategy. Some helpful hints:

  • Response to color is subjective; for the school family, response to your colors is tied up with tradition. Alumni and faculty, in particular, can get mighty unhappy if you start tinkering with this aspect of institutional identity.
  • But don’t overuse your school colors. This is a frequent mistake we see in magazines, admission collaterals, websites and campus signage.
  • Avoid letting your corporate colors “wander.” Aim for consistency of color matching in athletic wear, paint colors and other branded elements.
  • Here’s how to break the mold. For your website and printed materials, develop a secondary—even tertiary—color palette that works well with your “main two,” to open up a wider range of chromatic expression. Any rebranding project should include opening up your guidelines to carefully selected hues that become part of your identity guidelines.