Startups that look hot get noticed… it’s a fact. Of course, a big chunk of that comes down to their branding. Logo font and business name are often given a lot of cred in branding, but it’s time color got some attention too.

I’ve been doing a whole bunch of research on color as I prep my color detector SwatchMate for launch next month, so I’ve become a bit of a color nerd. One thing I’ve been looking at is how the hottest startups use color to convey why they’re awesome. Uber, Pinterest and Airbnb — I’m going to break them down so you gain some insight on using excellent color in branding and logo design.

1. Uber


Uber is one of the hottest tech startups right now, having recently secured a $400 million investment round from the likes of Google Ventures off of a $3.5 billion valuation. Not bad for a company founded in 2009!

But how has a company that provides black-cars on-demand (never call them a taxi company!) raised such a successful investment round? They did it by selling an experience. In their own words:

“…we push the limits of the transportation industry to create a simple, more efficient, and more enjoyable car service experience.”

So for Uber, it’s all about the experience: effortless requests, real-time location updates and painless payments. And as we know, the best way to communicate that experience is through great design and color.

So why their color selection? Because Uber offers a premium service.

Black = luxury; so it makes sense Uber’s logo is Black, right? Wrong. It actually isn’t a full Black — it’s got a subtle blue tinge to it — let’s call it an ‘Uber Black’ (RGB: 7, 7, 23). Why the difference? Because it’s the little details that make startups special — even down to the color selection. For Uber, this means evoking the metallic finish on their shiny black cars with a color that is uniquely theirs. This elevates Uber above ‘standard’ with a color that is blacker-than-black Black.

It’s also worth noting how the Uber Black ties into their status as a tech company. The logo’s square, rounded corners literally look like a smartphone app.

2. Pinterest


Pinterest is another hot startup that’s done remarkably well since founding in 2010. They’re currently valued at over $2.5 billion and recently partnered with giant Japanese retailer Rakuten.

From a design perspective, the Pinterest logo is one of the prettiest around: a balanced, delicate study in typographic ligatures and weights. Oh and that “P”/pin — what a way to tie into Pinterest’s core user experience of “pinning” things.

This flows onto their color selection: a careful yet rich Red (RGB: 202, 34, 31). We all know Red is the color of desire. This resonates for a company that’s all about letting its users catalogue and store their interests and desires.

Interesting note: such saturated Reds are outside of the CMYK color space. Meaning they can’t be printed using traditional offset printing. If you think about Pinterest as a digital-only company, this makes sense.

3. Airbnb


Airbnb is one of the breakout successes coming out of Y Combinator startup accelerator in 2009. They’re now valued at over $2.5 billion doing over $1 billion in yearly revenue. In short, they’re massive.

If you’re not aware of Airbnb, it’s an online marketplace for people to list and book accommodation. First thing to note is the immediate association the logo has with the Airbnb platform: it looks like a cloud in the breeze, like you might see from a plane when traveling. It’s delightful.

I love the Airbnb logo. It’s a fascinating study in thoughtful, honest design — I’d recommend everyone grabs the logo EPS from the Airbnb press section for a closer look. And again, it’s all in the details — the boldness of the font weight, the thickness of the white stroke. This is considered, playful design. Right down to the added shadows immediately following the “r”. You can see the manual edits used to create them by opening up the EPS in Adobe Illustrator. In practice, it subtly separates the “air” from the “bnb”, increasing legibility.

Another great touch is the delicate gradient from Blue (RGB: 0, 156, 212) through to a full White (RBG: 255, 255, 255). There’s no complicated masking or transparencies, instead it’s just a simple offset gradient. In practice, the coloring evokes clear-skies, fresh mornings and calm, and says that your holiday adventure is going to be fun and easy. I love it!

Last thing to note: the Airbnb smartphone app icon features a darker, more saturated blue and less gradient. Its simpler design makes it stand out more on cluttered screens. Again, this is a conscious effort to really sweat out the details.

Color matters to the hottest startups

As you’ve seen, color is an incredibly powerful communication tool that shouldn’t be ignored in startup branding.

If nothing else, I hope I’ve reminded you to focus in on the details, and to explore how the masters do it. This should help set you on the path to design a logo for the next big thing right here on 99designs!

About the author: Djordje Dikic is a color-obsessed designer from Melbourne, Australia. His work was recently awarded in the Melbourne Design Awards. He is also the co-founder of SwatchMate — keep up-to-date with SwatchMate by liking their Facebook page and following their blog for regular posts on color in design.