Remember when you were a kid and they would toss a bunch of markers on a table for a project? There was always a grab for the best color, your most favorite color, to make sure you could represent the world exactly the way you wanted.
Well it turns out there’s a reason we’re drawn to certain colors. In fact, studies suggest people make subconscious decisions about products within 90 seconds, largely based on color alone. Is it any wonder then that there’s a whole field dedicated to understanding color and which colors trigger which emotions?
What’s fascinating about color psychology is that it is still a largely subjective field. Think about it – why did you choose the green marker when your bestie chose the red? And that kid over there went for blue? It largely has to do with the experiences we’ve had associated with that color based on events, cultures, people, and memories. What memories did your favorite color trigger in you?
Yet there’s a nifty thing researchers have discovered: that there are also some general connotations that people have come to expect with certain colors, which means designers and marketers can capitalize on that when creating and expanding a brand. Another neat thing: you can use color psychology to train your audience to see what you want them to see, feel what you want them to feel, and do what you want them to do. That’s why it’s so important to understand color psychology – to know how to best use color to your advantage.
So let’s take a trip into the wonderful world of color (psychology)!
From stop lights warning of danger to fast food designs meant to trigger our appetite to Valentine’s Day’s onslaught of love and affection, red can be seen as a reflection of our physical needs. That’s why red is so commonly associated with both anger and love – it’s all about that physical reaction. It’s a powerful, dynamic color that if used sparingly, can grab someone’s attention quickly.
True story: At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, combat sport competitors who wore red won 55% of the time.
Pop quiz: which came first, orange, the color or orange, the fruit? If you answered fruit, you answered correctly! The fruit was cultivated in China centuries before the color entered the conversation. Today when we use orange in color palettes, it is meant to evoke vibrancy and energy, health and vitality, creativity and friendliness. It’s also a bright color that’s meant to jump out at one’s eye, such as with traffic cones and construction vests. It draws upon the power of red and the friendliness of yellow.
Speaking of, yellow tends to evoke optimism, happiness, and cheerfulness. Incidentally, it’s also one of the first colors infants respond to, which makes perfect sense because babies are always happy! (Except for when they’re crying. Or hungry. Or not getting what they want. We digress.) Yellow is generally a joyful color, which is why you often see yellow in designs meant to spark inspiration, confidence, or motivation.
Green is often connected to harmony and nature, which is pretty understandable if you’ve ever been near a tree or in a park. Like a yin-yang, it contains dualities. Positive associations include growth, balance, renewal, and abundance, whereas negative connections include jealousy, materialism, inexperience, and poison. Are you noticing a theme yet about how colors have both positive and negative connotations?
Blue is reliable. It’s dependable and trustworthy, which makes it one of the most-liked colors across the world. No shame if the blue marker is your game. It is seen as a calming color, which is why it is often seen in hospitals, spas, health facilities, and anything to do with our inner and physical health. Whereas red can trigger a physical reaction, blue tends to trigger a mental reaction that allows us to destress and calm down. On the flip side, blue can also relate to sadness and depression – again, speaking to that mental state rather than physical.
Quick, Jeopardy clue: This pigment was created using a small gland from two specific Mediterranean fish that each produces a single drop.
Question: What is Tyrian Purple? 250,000 fish to create a single ounce of dye, which meant only the wealthiest of the wealthy could afford it. And now we know why purple is associated with royalty. But also, purple harnesses the energy and power of red with the reliability and stability of blue. It creates a precise balance between physical and mental space, which can exude luxury, magic, and imagination depending on how you choose to deploy it.
While these are the main colors you might see on the color wheel, there’s also colors like black, white, gray, and brown to consider. These colors are unique in that they either reflect light, absorb light, or absorb all colors. Weird, right?
Guess what’s even weirder? When you go to design something, what appears black on your screen might look gray on someone else. But that’s a topic for next time – when we dig into color builds, accessibility, and just what the deal is with black, white, brown, and gray. See you then!