Tiffany blue. Coke red. McDonald's golden arches.
Color can be a powerful visual branding tool. Color plays on our emotions, and can shape how we feel about the businesses they represent. But the same basic color can be used to tell different brand stories.
Orange is an interesting color - it's not used as often in America as some of the other basic colors, and that may be in part due to it's ambiguous nature. It has a lot of the power and energy of red, without the established representation that comes with it (such as romance or anger).
Because of this more nebulous impression, orange makes us feel more vague emotions, such as hunger, enthusiasm, and stimulation.
Here's how three major brands are using orange well.
Now, as a Texas girl, I can't talk about orange and branding without talking about Whataburger. (I grew up in Corpus Christi, the birthplace of Whataburger.)
For those of you unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar with Whataburger, it's a Texan fast food chain serving burgers and chicken.
Whataburger utilizes orange to evoke two feelings: hunger and nostalgia.
Bright, vibrant food looks more appetizing because it looks fresher, and Whataburger's bright orange is reminiscent of fried foods. Texans aren't overly concerned with nutrition, and just look at those onion rings. The orange reminds us just how tasty they are, and makes us hungry and ready to eat.
Whataburger also uses orange to evoke a feeling of nostalgia, particularly by using orange and white stripes.
Brightly colored stripes are a staple of fifties' burger joints, and Whataburger made it their own by using their signature orange rather than the traditional cherry red.
They don't just draw on general American nostalgia - Whataburger itself has been using the orange and white stripes as a design element on their buildings since the very first one.
By creating such a consistent and recognizable building, Whataburger has cemented itself in the minds of children who grow up and still get hungry and nostalgic every time they drive past those orange and white stripes.
Home Depot is not trying to make you hungry.
Orange is used by Home Depot because of its relation to construction. Many construction signs you see on the road and elsewhere are orange, so Home Depot builds on that established meaning.
Their store is laid out and designed to feel similar to a construction site. Orange and white caution lines are used to mark registers, and the pipes and rafters are left exposed.
Even their logo mimics spray paint and stencils.
They use orange to evoke a very literal connotation, and they can do that because they did it first.
Worth noting is that Home Depot doesn't take their literal imitation of a construction site to their web presence. They simply use a very modern and clean layout with orange as the accent color. The quality of design was not sacrificed for their construction imagery. Literal and obvious correlation can be effective in design, as long as its not given presedence over usability.
Etsy uses multiple shades of orange in their visual brand, and their purpose is simple: blend vintage and modern sensibilities.
It may not seem obvious at first, since Etsy uses only touches of orange within their shopping interface to let the products shine (as they should).
Within this interface, they are just implementing the popular web design trend of shades of gray with a pop of color. Within this framework, it's not communicating much about Etsy as a business. That's not Etsy's goal - their goal is to promote the thousands of sellers who use Etsy to sell handmade and vintage materials.
However, if you go deeper into Etsy's how to guides, FAQs, and other informational pages (mostly targeted at shop owners), you find a different story.
Decorating these pages are modern illustrations with a retro color palette. The shades of orange here are used to remind us of shag carpet, bad wallpaper, and vintage floral dresses. Etsy leverages the fact that orange is rarely used in modern popular culture to create a brand that feels both modern and vintage.
An unique CHOICE
Even though these three brands use orange to create different feelings, all of them used the uniqueness and uncommonness of orange to build a memorable visual brand.
Whataburger uses orange to create a loyal and hungry following.
Home Depot uses the already established meaning of orange to create a very literal and easy to understand niche.
Etsy uses orange to make their modern interface feel more vintage and quirky.
Orange may be an unpopular color choice for visual brands, but that's part of what makes it so unique.
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