Color psychology is one of the most controversial and most interesting subjects in design industry. It is so because everything that contains the power of persuasion has always been controversial and interesting… why would color psychology be any different.
Not all designers pay attention to color psychology. They believe that every individual can associate different meaning to colors. For instance, an Englishman may associate the color red with danger, while a Chinese person would associate with prosperity and happiness because these are the qualities attributed to color red in Chinese culture, and that’s the reason for Chinese flag being all red.
Even though not all designers pay attention to color psychology, it is a verified science. In fact, some European universities test color psychology in their aptitude tests (entry test). Even though meaning of colors can differ from culture to culture, some basics stay the same. For instance, even in China, the red traffic signal means “stop”. It does not mean “be prosperous and happy”.
How Important is Color Psychology
Before we dive into details of this science, we must understand one thing, which is how much colors affect the reader’s mind.
Even though color psychology is a verified science, their affect is not at all dramatic. Let’s take an example, shall we.
The color green, is always associated with peace and nature and purity and such other good things. But in Harry Potter novels, green was the color of the villain party (slytherin house). And red color was associated with the hero. Whenever Harry and Voldemort (villain) fight, Voldemorts jet of green light clashes with Harry’s red flare.
One could assume that such deviation from obviousness could lead to disaster. The obvious color choice should have been green for Harry and red for Voldemort. But it turns out, the Harry Potter books are the most selling book series ever.
So does that mean colors are irrelevant?
Of course not! But we have to understand that colors do not create a dramatic change. Colors can increase your product sales only by zero point something. However, in corporate sector, that something can be everything. That’s the reason large corporate houses pay lots of attention to color psychology.
Color Psychology Infographic
Click the image to enlarge
Image courtesy of The Logo Company
Colors and their Associated Meanings
Emerald Insight conducted a survey. They found that 90% of snap judgments are based on the colors of product’s packaging. This is pretty powerful impact keeping in mind that how colors affect a particular person depends completely on his/her past experiences and cultural background. You must be wondering how did this happen.
Actually we, the humans of 21st century have developed a new culture. A global culture!
Our perceived meanings of colors are becoming almost same as everyone else. And that’s why color psychology is becoming more relevant and more effective. This is the reason those European universities are taking color psychology tests to all students regardless of their cultural background or past experiences.
If you would like to check your color psychology, Color Quiz is a website that takes your personality test depending on your choices of colors. Mind you, these results are not 100% accurate.
Did you notice that operating systems try to use rainbow colors in their logos? Microsoft Windows and Google Chrome use the same rainbow colors in their logos while Apple also used the same rainbow colors for a very very long time, until recently when they changed it because rainbow colors didn’t match with iPhone.
If fact, the similarity is so unavoidable that people made comics like this one.
Is that a coincidence? No. There are no coincidences in corporate world!
While each color contains its own particular feeling, its own emotion, rainbow colors deliver the message “fit for all seasons“.
Almost all of rainbow logos contain the same four colors: Blue, Red Yellow, and Green. Why is that so? What is the method in the madness? Let’s check it out.
The most loved color of them all. Even though blue is considered to be male-friendly color, it is actually loved by a majority of women as well.
Blue represents trust and peace. It can also represent conservatism.
The color of love, passion, desire and boldness. It can also represent danger.
Red is suitable if you are trying to make your presence felt. Red is an extreme color so use it wisely.
Yellow is considered to be the happiest of colors. It represents cheerfulness and happiness. It can also represent impatience on cowardice.
Another tricky thing about yellow is that it is the most eye-catching color. A sign board with yellow background will acquire more gazes than it would any other color, even red doesn’t compete in this. So whenever you use yellow color, make sure that while it is eye catching, it can also be irritating.
They say everybody loves green. Of course, this is the color associated with nature. It represents peace, growth and positivity. It could also represent possessiveness.
Purple and Indigo
These are my favorite colors. Purple can represent strength, wisdom, idealism and imagination. On the other hand it could also represent impracticality and immaturity.
Purple and indigo are most suited where you are trying to be unique. If you want to prove that you are different from the rest, purple and indigo should be your choice.
Black and Gray
Black represents power, courage, desire, and determination. But black is also associated with deprivation, ignorance or evil.
Gray and silver represents balance and calmness. They can also mean detachment and mystery.
These two colors are mostly used together. In web design, these are fail-safe colors but in graphic design, they need to be used with caution.
White is the symbol of peace, continuity and growth. It has no drawbacks. But of course, using white in the main design means that you are using background of some other color, therefore that color will be considered the primary color and that color will determine the color psychology of your design, not the white on the foreground.
White is also the most readable background color. So it is always a good idea that if your design contains lots of text, use a white background.
Now we come to the conclusion. You must be wondering that we didn’t cover everything in this topic so why are we ending the article. It’s obvious isn’t it. We cannot cover everything in just one article. It’s a big science which needs hundreds of pages to be elaborated. Our target was only to give you a little taste of what the fuss about color psychology is. If you are fascinated by it, there’s a list on Designers and Books about 15 good books for learning color psychology that should give advanced level studies in this matter.
The science of color psychology goes deep in preferences of colors by gender, by age, by culture, by location… and the list goes on and on.
Getting back to the conclusion, we have learned that colors may not affect your mind dramatically, but subtle psychological affect can be a big advantage in corporate sector.
We have also learned that color psychology is largely dependent on your past experiences and cultural background, but we also understood that perceived meanings of colors are mostly the same in the global culture.
Now, let’s end with the biggest truth of design industry.
Steve Jobs made it easy for us. You should not design to impress, you should not design to be heard… you must design so that your product is sold and loved. Keep user experience in mind and you’re sorted.
Color psychology and all such design sciences are tools of achieving good user experience. If we are achieving a good user experience, nothing else matters.