The psychological effects of colour in design

The psychological effects of colour in design

The psychological effects of colour in design

The human eye can see millions of colours. They are all around us and influence us constantly, playing a pivotal part in triggering our actions and on a daily basis, responsible for various behaviours and decisions we make.

The use of colour, is not just about making something look pretty, it’s about the reaction it evokes. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colours in 1666. Whilst it has evolved and been adapted over time, the colours within this spectrum have always resonated with us on different levels.

In the world of brand identity, colour psychology is involved in everything. The key to success is not only to understand what each colour means from a psychological perspective but learning how to inspire, invigorate and engage your target market. Colour plays an essential role in creating a strong first impression for your customers. But crucially it’s not a case of one size fits all; colour psychology isn’t an exact science. Individuals will emotionally respond in different ways depending on diversities in culture, taste and association so perception can vary.

Image credit: Huffington Post

RED
Passion, youthfulness, energy, power, strength, excitement, desire, boldness

Red offers diversity and can take on a variety of meanings though the unifying factor is the sense of importance.  It is a colour best used cautiously. Due to its attention-grabbing properties, it’s a priceless tool in the world of promotion but used excessively it will inhibit relaxation.

ORANGE
Courage, confidence, friendliness, success, innovation, cheerfulness, creative, enthusiasm

Orange is a colour that doesn’t hold back. Used correctly, it can stand out in a crowd. It focuses our minds on issues of physical comfort and sensuality. As its intermediate positioning between red and yellow, orange combines the reaction between the physical and the emotional.

YELLOW
Brightness, optimism, friendliness, joyfulness, warmth, energy, clarity, creativity

As the colour of the sun, yellow creates an energetic vibe. It is able to stimulate and revitalise and it’s therefore easy to understand why it evokes feelings of optimism and clarity, lifting our spirts and self-esteem. Whilst lighter shades play on the happiness aspects associated with summer and sun, darker shades add more weight giving a sense of antiquity. Used incorrectly through and it can represent warning and raise levels of anxiety.

GREEN
Freshness, environment, health, healing, peacefulness, growth, renewal, harmony

Being the centre of the spectrum, green is the colour of balance. It is the bridge between the stimulating, warmer colours such as red and orange and the calming, cool colours of blue, offering reassurance and an air of stability. It provides a serene and peaceful tone, conveying the idea of growth but used in the wrong way it can indicate stagnation and blandness.

BLUE
Tranquillity, security, integrity, strength, trust, intelligence, masculinity, dependence

Blue offers much versatility, suggesting trust, evoking calmness and safety as well as being socially friendly and inviting. With its ability to offer more range than other colours, there are contrasts in what it can represent at opposing ends of the scale. Light blues generally have a refreshing and energising personality, calming the mind and aiding concentration. Whereas dark blues are much more sombre, pointing towards security and trust stimulating clear thought.

PURPLE
Spirituality, luxury, creativity, wealth, vision, imagination, truth, wiseful

With its historical association with royalty, purple represents luxury and is an effective way to create the sense of elegance and high-end appeal. It conjures images of grandeur and opulence, activating the imagination to provide an experience beyond the ordinary. It carries with it a sense of wisdom and takes awareness to a higher level of thought. Lighter shades bring to mind a spiritual and sensual essence whilst darker shades can suggest mystery and intrigue.

PINK
Healthy, nurture, happiness, femininity, sweet, compassion, playfulness, sexuality

Pink is stereotypically targeted towards the female market but if its use is over accentuated, it can become emasculating, losing its intended effect. Whilst the neighbouring red stimulates, pink meanwhile offers a sense of soothing and nurturing. It can also link towards innocence and works well both visually and psychologically with red and purple.

BROWN
Earthy, outdoors, longevity, conservative, comfort, stability, seriousness, nature

Under the right circumstances, brown can be an effective branding colour. It is a primarily organic natured colour associated with earth and trees. When utilised in muted tones, it can produce a classier, more human emphasis. In addition, with its hues of red and yellow as well as its inclusion of black, it can offer similar yet more forgiving and less suppressive elements of seriousness. It is a solid, reliable colour that is found to be quietly supportive.

BLACK
Elegance, class, protection, mystery, sophistication, substance, glamour, safety

Black adds an air of sophistication and elegance with a very bold confidence. Creating protective barriers, it absorbs energy, enshrouding personality. It is another example that offers diversity; on one hand can appear menacing and even instilling fear but on the other it provides absolute clarity and uncompromising excellence.

WHITE
Goodness, innocence, purity, freshness, ease, clean, sterility, simplicity

While black is the absence of light, white is the literal opposite and the two polar contrasts often work perfectly in unison together. By reflecting light, psychologically it can create barriers but also provides purity and cleanliness. Visually it creates a heightened perception of space.

GREY
Security, reliability, intelligence, solid, neutrality, balance, calm, stability

Intermediately positioned between black and white, grey exudes neutrality. It therefore lacks sensation and often doesn’t excel as a primary colour in branding. It is the only colour that has no direct psychological properties and unless it is used right it can compromise other colours it is used with. However, alone it can exude traditionalism and professionalism, suggesting intelligence and reliability.

Key considerations with colour usage in branding

Customer preferences

Consider the market you are targeting and understand their preferences. Genders, cultures and ethical diversities can make a considerable difference. Also evaluate your product or service and identify the links between them and your target audience.

Customer expectations

Look at your brand history, it’s positioning and personality. How do you want your customers to perceive you? Look at relevance within your industry and understand what is appropriate and what isn’t.

Brand messaging

Use colour that matches the emotions and characteristics that your brand is trying to portray. Look at your value proposition and see if it resonates with any specific colours. Think about the associations that people are most likely to make.

Competitor colours

Research your competition and see how they position their branding. It can be tempting to roll with the clichés but it is better to stand out than blend in. But instead of just selecting the brightest shade, examine what works best between your customers and your products.

Authenticity

Think about how you can portray yourself in an authentic way using colour in your branding. It is important to remain authentic as customers often act with intuition when they see a brand and if the colours don’t connect effectively, they may go elsewhere.

Consistency

In order to solidify the image of your brand in your customers’ minds, it is crucial that colour usage in your brand remains consistent over time. This can be ensured through development of brand guidelines.

Summary

To summarise, colour usage in branding can have a significant impact on how well you are able to convey your branding message and connect with your target audience. Underestimating the psychology of colour in branding can have a devastating impact. There’s much more to consider than just personal preference so before you launch your brand, take a step back and evaluate the implications of your options. By investing time in the consideration of your options, you’re much more likely to end up with something that resonates with the audience you are aiming it towards and will pay dividends in the long run for your business.

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