Considering the Psychology of Color

Have you ever heard that certain colors can make you hungry? Think about fast food restaurant signage. The majority of these chains utilize reds, oranges, and yellows. Why? Psychological testing has revealed that these colors actually stimulate hunger in humans! Color is an important element in all visual design and it’s full of powerful psychological elements that sparks the subconscious and influences buyer behavior. Studies have shown that using particular colors with certain brands can be a very persuasive factor when customers make their decisions. With the use of effective color psychology techniques, you can send a plethora of messages, increase sales, and even calm a crying baby. These practices are particularly effective in logo design, web site design, book covers, or product packaging.

The field of industrial psychology has a sub-field that studies only the psychology of color. It is no accident that Campbell’s soup has used the same four colors on their labels for years and years or that the yellow and red of a McDonald’s sign has never changed. These colors are important for memory recall, brand recognition, and asserting a particular brand as leading or the best.

 
Image Credit: Sheokhanda

This article is a brief overview of the psychology of certain colors as explained on the Precision Intermedia and the Empower Yourself with Color Psychology websites. Try to make connections in your life with these meanings. Keep in mind that the psychology of color is a cultural phenomena and you may have to research the psychology of color in a different country if you are conducting international business with your product or signage.

BLACK

Black is the color of authority and power, stability and strength. Black implies self-control and discipline, independence and a strong will, and giving an impression of authority and power. Catholica preists wear black to exemplify this self-discipline. It is also the color associated with intelligence (doctorate in black robe; black horn rimmed glasses, etc). Black is intimidating, unfriendly and unapproachable because of the power it exudes. It’s a somber color sometimes associated with evil (the salesman in all black makes no friends)! Black is often seen as a color of sophistication evident in “black tie affairs” or an evening gown for an upscale party. In the western hemisphere black is associated with grieving. Black is a serious color that evokes strong emotions; it is easy to overwhelm people with too much black.

WHITE

For most of the world this is the color associated with purity (think wedding dresses) and cleanliness (think doctor’s office). In color psychology white is the color of new beginnings, wiping the slate clean, so to speak. It is the “tabula rasa,” or blank slate, waiting to be written upon. It is also used to project the absence of color, or neutrality. In some eastern parts of the world, white is associated with mourning or new beginnings in the afterlife. White associated with creativity (white boards, blank slates). It is a compression of all the colors in the color spectrum and a sense of efficiency or totality is represented here. If you have seen many futuristic movies, white is used frequently to accent the fresh feeling of the future.

GRAY

Gray is most associated with the practical, timeless, middle-of-the-road, solid things in life. Too much gray leads to feeling mostly nothing; but a bit of gray will add that rock solid feeling to your product. Some shades of gray are associated with old age, death, taxes, depression or a lost sense of direction. Silver is an off-shoot of gray and often associated with giving a helping hand or a strong character. From a color psychology perspective, gray is the color of compromise – being neither black nor white, it is the transition between two non-colors. The closer gray gets to black, the more dramatic and mysterious it becomes. The closer it gets to silver or white, the more illuminating and lively it becomes.

RED

If you want to draw attention, use red. Red is known to be the color of passion, and romance. It can be associated with all kinds of emotions, and attitudes, from defiance, to sexiness, to outright danger. Red is an authoritative color and people often wear red to stand out or appear more important in a crowd. People surrounded by red find their heart beating a little faster and often report feeling a bit out of breath. The color red has been shown in studies to increase hunger, again pointing to the color’s ability to stimulate desire. Some studies have shown that red cars get more tickets but that maybe because the red car owners drive faster or that the cops notice the movement of the red car more prominently. Red is not a good color to over use! Using a spot of red in just the right place is smart in some cases. Red is the symbol of life and, for this reason, it’s the color worn by brides in China. Red is used at holidays that are about love and giving but our next color is the true color of love.

PINK

Pink is the most calming of all colors — often our most dangerous criminals are housed in pink cells as studies show that color drains the energy and calms aggression. Think of pink as the color of romance, love, and gentle feelings. Remember: to be “in the pink” is to be soothed. Many people regard the color pink as a symbol of the female nature. Growing up, many girls are dressed in the color pink at an early age. This color has a “girlie” feel that a majority of females have traditionally responded to quite positively. It has symbolized joy and tranquility in many aspects of our own surroundings. In nature, people tend to see the color pink when the sun is rising or setting which gives off a very powerful feeling of serenity. Many flowers that offer pleasurable aromas are pink.

BLUE

Ask people their favorite color and a clear majority will say blue. The color blue is one of trust, honesty and loyalty. It is sincere, reserved and quiet, and doesn’t like to make a fuss or draw attention. Blue hates confrontation, and likes to do things in its own way. Some shades (or too much blue) can send a cold and uncaring message. Blue seeks peace and tranquility above everything else, promoting both physical and mental relaxation. The color blue reduces stress, creating a sense of calmness, relaxation and order – we certainly feel a sense of calm if we lie on our backs and look into a bright blue cloudless sky. Blue is conservative and predictable, a safe and non-threatening color, and the most universally liked color of all, probably because it is safe and non-threatening.Some studies are showing that weight lifters can lift more weight in a blue gym – in fact, nearly all sports are enhanced in blue surroundings.

TURQUOISE/AQUA

Turquoise helps to open the lines of communication between the heart and the spoken word. It presents as a friendly and happy color enjoying life. Turquoise recharges our spirits during times of mental stress and tiredness, alleviating feelings of loneliness. The color turquoise is a good color to aid concentration and clarity of thought for public speakers as it calms the nervous system, gives control over speech and expression, and builds confidence. Turquoise can sometimes be impractical and idealistic and remote from emotional reactions, appearing excessively cool, calm and collected. 

GREEN

This is the color of growth, nature, and money. The color green is the color of balance and harmony. From a color psychology perspective, it is the great balance of the heart and the emotions, creating equilibrium between the head and the heart. A calming color, green is also very pleasing to the senses. Dark forest green is associated with terms like conservative, masculine and wealth. Hospitals use light green rooms because they too are found to be calming to patients. Green is the color of prosperity and abundance, of finance and material wealth. It relates to the business world, to real estate and property. Prosperity gives a feeling of safety to green. It is also the color associated with envy, good luck, generosity and fertility. It is the traditional color of peace, harmony, comfortable nurturing, support and well paced energy.

YELLOW

The color yellow relates to acquired knowledge. It is the color which resonates with the left or logic side of the brain stimulating our mental faculties and creating mental agility and perception. Being the lightest hue of the spectrum, the color psychology of yellow is uplifting and illuminating, offering hope, happiness, cheerfulness and fun. Reminiscent of summer and late spring it instills warmth and a certain sunniness making it perfect for summer themed posters. It is the practical thinker, not the dreamer. It has the power to speed up our metabolism and bring out some creative thoughts (legal tablets are yellow for good reason!). Yellow can be quickly overpowering if over-used, but used sparingly in the just the right place it can be an effective tool in marketing to greater sales. Some shades of yellow are associated with cowardice; but the more golden shades with the promise of better times.

ORANGE

The most flamboyant color on the planet! The color orange radiates warmth and happiness, combining the physical energy and stimulation of red with the cheerfulness of yellow. It’s the color tied most this fun times, happy and energetic days, warmth and organic products. It is also associated with ambition. There is nothing even remotely calm associated with this color. Orange is associated with a new dawn in attitude. Orange brings spontaneity and a positive outlook on life and is a great color to use during tough economic times, keeping us motivated and helping us to look on the bright side of life. With themes of adventure and risk-taking, inspiring physical confidence, competition and independence orange is an active participant in the world of hues. Those inspired by orange are always on the go!

PURPLE

What color were the robes of kings and queens? Yes, they were purple, our most royal color that is associated with wealth, prosperity, rich sophistication. The color purple or violet relates to the imagination and spirituality. It stimulates the imagination and inspires high ideals. It is an introspective color, allowing us to get in touch with our deeper thoughts actually stimulating the brain activity used in problem solving. Use purple most carefully to lend an air of mystery, wisdom, and respect. Violet can be sensitive to all the different forms of pollution in the world today, whether it be air pollution, noise pollution, visual pollution or the pollution in our food chain. Young adolescent girls are most likely to select nearly all shades of purple as their favorite color. Too much of the color purple can promote or aggravate depression in some. It is one color that should be used extremely carefully and in small amounts by those who are vulnerable to these depressed states.

BROWN

This color is most associated with reliability, stability, and friendship. The color brown is a serious, down-to-earth color signifying structure and support. It’s the color of the earth itself  and what better to signify stability than the planet that gives us life. It too is associated with things being natural or organic. Relating to the protection and support of the family unit, with a keen sense of duty and responsibility, it encourages a strong need for security and a sense of belonging with family and friends being of utmost importance. The color brown relates to quality in everything – a comfortable home, the best food and drink and loyal companionship. It is a color of physical comfort, simplicity and quality. From a negative perspective it can also give the impression of cheapness and stinginess in certain circumstances. Use caution though because in India it is the color of mourning.

YOU are the one that decides what that first flash of color seen on your web site will be. YOU decide what colors to add to your brand or logo. Be smart about the decisions you make when deciding on colors and carefully study color psychology to be confident that your brand will stand out and attract your desired market. It’s important to remember that color is the first thing registered by a person who sees your business or advertisement. If  it is pleasing, they will be inspired; if it’s displeasing you may lose them in a flash. Remember to keep in mind the meaning and harmony of colors.

What colors have you used in your branding? Did color psychology play a role in your decision or did you just choose the colors based on your personality? Share your thoughts with us on our Twitter page using the hashtag #EliteColor and feel free to post your comments on our Facebook page as well!