Color is a persuasive design element that affects every aspect of an industry event’s branding—from logos and promotion to signage and swag bags. An effective color palette establishes an event’s theme, supports wayfinding, and creates a memorable brand experience. Color communicates meaning to attendees, and the following strategies can help you craft color combinations that align with an event’s goals.
How Color Informs and Inspires Industry Event Attendees
Color relays overt and subliminal cues about an event’s purpose and location. It shapes the way attendees—both online and in-person—remember their experience.
Color Conveys Mood and Promotes Familiarity
Brand designer Iyanuoluwa Ademade says color can evoke emotions that connect a consumer to a brand. Blue, for example, conjures feelings of tranquility and is often associated with stability and success, which is why many banks incorporate it in their branding, he says. But the psychological impact of a color isn’t fixed. A color can convey different moods depending on its paired colors: “In industry events, such as trade shows, blue is often paired with red and black to express energy, strength, and technological advancement,” Ademade says.
Color can also help build familiarity. An event’s attendees will interact with its visual identity—typography, iconography, imagery, and logos—at numerous touchpoints. Color influences the messages these design elements convey, and when used consistently, it reinforces brand recognition.
I was commissioned to design a logo for Legalweek 2022, a legal technology conference. The goal was to generate excitement, build brand trust, and create a visual that could be referenced and repurposed across the event’s digital and print touchpoints. To achieve this, I chose vibrant pink and bright blue as the brand’s signature colors. Pink captured the energy of the evolving legal field, while blue was intended to convey a sense of trust.
Color Captures Attention Online
When creating color schemes for industry events, you might be inclined to think “on-site” first. While it’s necessary to consider how color affects an event space, don’t overlook the fact that colors will first be used in online promotion and can play a crucial role in event turnout.
Pairing primary colors with simple geometric shapes is a visually striking technique that’s popular in social media posts designed to highlight important information, such as product sales and announcements. On event websites, color blocking is a great way to attract attention to calls to action. By limiting a site’s palette to two or three harmonious colors and blocking out a large section with a single color, you can emphasize specific UI components, such as the event’s “Sign up” button.
In my designs for the online promotion of another legal event series, the General Counsel conferences, I used warm, attention-grabbing colors to highlight key information, such as dates and attendance numbers.
Color can also act as a thematic bridge between an industry event’s online marketing and on-site activities. For example, before an event, a distinct color can be used in online graphics promoting a highly anticipated speaker. Then, when it’s time for the speaker’s presentation, the same promotional color can be used in lighting, stage graphics, and the speaker’s slides.
Color Makes Wayfinding More Intuitive
Color creates visual hierarchy and makes people take action. In event wayfinding, color directs attendees to the right information, and enhances their understanding of the event space. For instance, designers can use colored floor graphics to create implied paths that point attendees to registration lines. Designers can also help orient attendees by using color to create landmarks, demarcate floor levels, and segment large spaces into zones.
In my work for Legalweek, I designed hanging banners featuring the event’s speakers. I emphasized the speakers’ names and presentation dates by framing them with bright pink and blue lines that popped against a navy background. I also incorporated large black-and-white photos of the speakers, so as not to interfere with the pink-and-blue palettes. The purpose of the banners was to help attendees find their bearings in the event space.
Color Leaves a Lasting Impression
Swag helps attendees remember an event, and using an event’s color palette in giveaway items extends the reach of event branding. Moreover, you can diversify your swag items by subtly varying the event colors used in their design, allowing attendees to select their favorite combinations. People are far more likely to use an item they’ve selected personally, and the more your swag is in use, the more exposure your brand will get.
For Legalweek, I used pink and blue to tie the giveaways back to the event itself but incorporated subtle variations in shade to give the swag a customized feel.
How to Pick the Right Colors for an Industry Event
There are three areas to consider when selecting colors for an industry event: design intent, color combinations, and color refinement.
Determine Your Design Intent
The colors you choose set the tone for an event. Dark, cool colors, such as black or navy, create a sophisticated feel, whereas bright, warm colors, like yellow and orange, stimulate a high-energy atmosphere of anticipation and enthusiasm.
The color of lighting also has a significant impact. Soft and diffuse uplighting can communicate a sense of allure and add intrigue, which is why it’s often used in product launches. For events with keynotes and speakers, you can use wash lighting to fill a space with color that conveys a theme or mood.
If an event’s goal is to make a brand statement, use the brand’s color palette at every touchpoint. And if the brand has a signature color, consider making it the most prominent visual element in all digital and printed collateral.
Combine Colors Thoughtfully
“Context in color matters,” UX/UI designer Akis Apostoliadis says. “How you combine color affects people’s perceptions of your brand.” Certain colors can be mixed and matched to create color harmony and contribute to an enjoyable experience at industry events.
Apostoliadis explains that high-contrast color combinations highlight important visual elements and place secondary information in the background. He cautions, however, that some combinations, such as red and green, can confuse people who are colorblind.
Analogous combinations, such as blue, teal, and green, have a calming effect, Apostoliadis says. There is limited contrast in these palettes, and they are usually consistently warm or cool.
A monochromatic color scheme can be used to create dramatic compositions that are uncluttered and pleasing to the eye. This minimalist approach is often used in tradeshow booth graphics to spotlight important content, such as text and illustrations.
For General Counsel, I used complementary and analogous colors to distinguish the three conferences held in Australia, Chicago, and New York. Reddish-orange and forest green are complementary colors that help differentiate one US event from the other. Golden yellow stands analogous to those colors, creating cohesion and unity when the events are presented together.
Fine-tune and Test Your Color Scheme
In addition to combining the right colors, designers must consider the subtleties of contrast, hue, tint, tone, shade, and temperature to maximize readability and accessibility at industry events.
For instance, placing two hues with low value contrast (like orange and green) next to each other can make copy hard to read. Alternatively, a 4.5:1 ratio between the foreground color (informative text in an event banner, for example) and the background color will help attendees with moderate visual impairments distinguish the colors.
Testing your event visuals, including your color palette, ensures that you have made effective design choices that contribute to a positive experience for attendees. Nielsen Norman Group offers a number of best practices for testing visual designs. These include having people compare multiple variations of a design or conducting five-second tests to gauge their gut reactions.
Asking questions is another effective way to measure responses to a design. Open-ended questions are useful for learning about an audience’s expectations because they require test participants to explain why they like or dislike a design. Controlled questions, such as choosing descriptors from a list of terms, can help you identify how specific brand attributes are perceived by the audience.
Choosing Color for Industry Events: Takeaways
There are endless opportunities to use color effectively in industry event design deliverables. Picking the right colors starts with determining both your design intent and what you want your color scheme to convey. As you learn more about color fundamentals—such as contrast, tint, and shade—and practice assembling appealing color combinations, you will sharpen your ability to make smart color choices. Using color effectively can improve marketing for your event and drive attendance, clarify session details and locations, and keep your event top of mind long after it has ended.
Understanding the basics
Event branding is the visual messaging that conveys the objective of an event. These design elements include event logos, color palettes, imagery, signage, and wayfinding.
Events build brand loyalty, and visual branding is an effective way to convey an event’s purpose at every attendee touchpoint, from invitations and registrations, to confirmation and thank-you emails.
Colors directly affect how event attendees perceive your brand. Strategic use of color can help you build a strong brand image that connects with attendees’ emotions and spurs them to action.