Costa Coffee colour book features in Digital Arts

How to define a brand’s look with the per­fect colour toolkit

Find the per­fect hue and ensure total colour con­sis­ten­cy on a new brand­ing project, with advice from one of the coun­try’s lead­ing agencies.

As any dig­i­tal artist full well knows, the process of hav­ing con­sis­ten­cy in colour when going from screen to print is a hap­haz­ard jour­ney; the shades and colour cast of your dig­i­tal piece won’t look entire­ly the same on the ver­sion that comes out of the printer.

This dis­crep­an­cy between dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal can be fur­ther ampli­fied when a brand has an array of items car­ry­ing its sig­na­ture colours. Here a design­er needs to con­sid­er a whole array of vari­ables when tasked with cre­at­ing a brand colour toolk­it, a style book from which your client can ensure colour consistency. 

Your brief is to look at the in-store expe­ri­ence, print and sup­pli­er mate­ri­als; essen­tial­ly a colour toolk­it is a B2B com­mu­ni­ca­tion for print­ers and sup­pli­ers to gain greater con­sis­ten­cy of a brand colour,” explains Grant Willis, a man who knows about colours and chain­stores more than most.

As Cre­ative Direc­tor at Lon­don’s Our Design Agency (ODA), he’s over­seen brand iden­ti­ty work for clients as dis­parate as flower shows and care providers, along with a suc­cess­ful mis­sion to bring Cos­ta Cof­fee’s local and glob­al out­lets under the same uni­form colour. This project came about when the com­pa­ny’s sig­na­ture red was found to actu­al­ly not be so sig­na­ture across items in-store, and even on store­front sig­nage both here and abroad.

This is when a design­er can step in to save the day with their toolk­it, but the first step is to find an opti­mum colour iden­ti­ty, the one shade which will define the clien­t’s brand. Rebrand or not, this colour may already be star­ing at you straight in the face.

With Cos­ta, we first estab­lished the brand colour tar­get,” Grant explains. We agreed that the colour tar­get was the icon­ic Cos­ta Cof­fee take-away cup, that was a bea­con for cus­tomers, so every oth­er appli­ca­tion had to match that colour.”

That said, while the present is an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion, it does­n’t hurt to look at the past of your brand, either.

It was fas­ci­nat­ing to research the dif­fer­ent shades of colour that Cos­ta Cof­fee had used since its first high street store and how much change there had been,” he enthus­es. In the 1970s it was a dark brown, the 1980s were char­ac­terised by a dark red, where­as the 1990s saw it move to a brighter red with the addi­tion of a pil­lar box’ red added to the palette that was more rem­i­nis­cent of fast food.”

We cre­at­ed a colour time­line to show the evo­lu­tion of the brand colour over the decades and rec­om­mend­ed dark­en­ing the palette to give it a more pre­mi­um feel. In this con­text the dark­er red being pro­posed didn’t feel alien and as such Cos­ta could see that the new colour we were rec­om­mend­ing would work.”

Pre­sent­ing your colour of choice ulti­mate­ly depends on what your client wants — in the case of Cos­ta, for exam­ple, this was to achieve uni­for­mi­ty across mul­ti­ple mar­kets with sup­pli­ers and printers.

After set­tling on a colour with your client, a tech­ni­cal break-down comes into play, as Grant explains.

We used a spec­trom­e­ter to estab­lish the make-up of that colour, and cre­at­ed print proofs on uncoat­ed and coat­ed paper with slight vari­a­tions around this ini­tial break­down to decide which looked best.”

After gain­ing sign offs on these colours from the client, the process can hit a delay as you apply your colours to the var­i­ous sub­strates used by the client — sub­strates being the base mate­ri­als onto which your colour will be print­ed on. The Cos­ta conun­drum arose because of this array, with ODA find­ing there were around 50 – 60 dif­fer­ent sub­strates and mate­ri­als being used in a store envi­ron­ment that all unin­ten­tion­al­ly used vary­ing degrees of red.

The var­i­ous branch­es were fol­low­ing the orig­i­nal style guide, but ulti­mate­ly this was irrel­e­vant as the mate­ri­als altered the look of the sup­pos­ed­ly uni­ver­sal brand colour — some­thing every design­er should bear in mind when cre­at­ing their kit.

There was such a wide range of mate­ri­als, includ­ing vinyl, paper, foamex, wood and met­al,” Grant explains. Colours nat­u­ral­ly appear in dif­fer­ent shades depend­ing on the base mate­r­i­al, so we con­duct­ed an audit of every sub­strate and mate­r­i­al in use across the com­pa­ny estate. Cer­tain mate­ri­als will only dye or stain a cer­tain colour so we had to take that into account too.”

To get around this with your toolk­it, a design­er will need to make mul­ti­ple large chips made of the cho­sen colour on coat­ed and uncoat­ed stock. This will then be sent to every print­er and sup­pli­er which the client works with, from the com­pa­ny that prints the lid on a yoghurt pot to the com­pa­ny that makes the uni­form,” as in Grant’s experience.

The scope was every sin­gle mate­r­i­al used in and out of their stores, from posters to awnings, menu boards to win­dow vinyls.”

Every com­pa­ny receives the colour swatch on coat­ed and uncoat­ed paper so they can test and try to match clos­er to the colour pro­vid­ed and send this back for approval. In some cas­es, this process can last two months or so.

When we received all the new match­es, we could then judge the con­sis­ten­cy of colour across the board,” Grant con­tin­ues. We then sat with the client and signed off the ones they were hap­py with on each sub­strate. We show the client every­thing at every major stage as it’s impor­tant for a project of this type to have as many face-to-face meet­ings as possible.”

We’re try­ing to cre­ate a blan­ket colour across mul­ti­ple mate­ri­als, so it ulti­mate­ly needs to look con­sis­tent. The acid test was – what do the colours look like to the naked eye? That’s how the cus­tomer makes a judgement.”

There’s a cer­tain amount of accep­tance for vari­a­tion in colour,” Grant con­tin­ues, so if it’s on wood or kraft paper, the mind expects and accepts that it will look dif­fer­ent to white card due to the nat­ur­al base colour of those mate­ri­als. But mate­ri­als that all have a white base colour, like white card or white foamex for exam­ple, should all look the same or it’ll look like a mistake.”

In ODA’s case, they went back to the print­ers to read­just the set­tings of the reds that need­ed refin­ing to ensure the colour was as uni­form as pos­si­ble across all the dif­fer­ent sub­strates. Once this is sort­ed, you are ready to assem­ble your final toolkit.

A brand colour toolk­it should include every sub­strate that the brand colour will appear on to pro­vide uni­for­mi­ty across the clien­t’s estate, with ide­al­ly a page for each mate­r­i­al which dis­plays the cor­rect colour. As ODA ensured with their kit, the pages should be hole punched and placed on a ring binder for ease of use by the print­er. This way, pages can be added if a new sup­pli­er is added with a new mate­r­i­al in the future.

A slip­case was also designed to hold the brand colour toolk­it to pro­tect the con­tents from fad­ing,” Grant adds on the Cos­ta toolk­it. We also made sev­er­al mock-ups at key stages along the way to test the struc­tur­al integri­ty of the book and show the way the kit opened and func­tioned in the way it was intended.”

The ODA touch also ensured the final prod­uct was more than just a cus­tomised swatch book; Grant rec­om­mends design­ers have a lit­tle fun with their toolkits.

We made ten books in total, but Cos­ta Cof­fee loved the book and has since asked us to make up to anoth­er 100,” he says. It’s got paint brush­es that pull paint marks out across the page, and the cof­fee stir­rer in the paint pot is a nod to both Cos­ta and the print­ers who will be using it. It’s full of per­son­al­i­ty and fun to use.”

In oth­er words, don’t be afraid to add a lit­tle colour.