“I only work in black…and sometimes very very dark grey.”
– Batman, The Lego Movie
Have you ever wondered why the blue sea appears more inviting on a hot summer’s day? Why orange and yellow vegetables in a Sunday Roast look more appetising in winter? Or what a company’s colour palette says about them?
Different colours evoke different emotional responses. The study of how colour influences our behaviour is called colour psychology. Each person perceives colours differently. How we perceive colours and our emotional responses to colour depend on a wide range of factors such as our own experiences and upbringing, gender, age, culture, race, nationality and environment.
For example, people from a western culture tend to associate Red with love and passion. In China, Red means luck and fertility, whereas in African cultures Red is associated with death and grief. Conversely, for two people of the same gender, age, culture, race and nationality, the same colour may evoke completely different responses based on their past experiences.
But if each person perceives and responds to colours differently, how do organisations effectively use colour to influence their customers perceptions of goods and services?
By understanding and using the principles of colour psychology organisations can influence the perceptions of the majority, but not everyone.
“Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
– Claude Monet
There are lots of great resources which delve more deeply into colour psychology and we’ve included links to some of those for further reading. It’s too broad a topic to cover fully here, so we’ll just provide a brief overview of each colours meaning. It’s worth noting that light and dark variations of each colour also have different meanings. For example, light blue is associated with health, healing, tranquility, understanding, and softness, where as dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.
Red is the colour of fire and blood. It is associated with action, adventure, aggression, blood, danger, drive, energy, excitement, love, passion, and vigor.
Red is often used by food industry brands as it has been known to raise people’s blood pressure and stimulate appetite – McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Domino’s all have Red in their visual identities.
Companies using red in their logos include Adobe, Target, Lego and KFC.
A combination of Red and Yellow, Orange is the colour of energy, sunshine, warmth, joy and playfulness. A less aggressive colour than red, orange represents creativity, enthusiasm, lightheartedness, affordability and youth.
Companies using orange in their logos include Amazon, Harley Davidson and ING. Interestingly for ING, orange represents their Dutch heritage.
Yellow instills feelings of positivity, happiness, warmth and curiosity. It also represents caution, especially when used with black, for example bees and wasps in nature, and caution signs in society.
Companies using Yellow in their logos include CAT, Shell, Snapchat.
Green is the colour of growth, freshness, serenity, and healing. It is also associated with harmony, health, eco-friendliness, healing, inexperience, money, and nature.
Companies using Green in their logos include Starbucks, Holiday Inn, John Deere, Greenpeace.
Blue is trustworthy, loyal, dependable, and serene. It also represents authority, calmness, confidence, dignity, success, security. Traditionally a masculine colour, It is popular with financial institutions (e.g ANZ, Barclays) and social media sites (FB, LinkedIn, Twitter), but less so with restaurants as it suppresses appetite.
Companies using blue in their logos include ANZ, Facebook, Ford.
Pink is friendly and light-hearted colour. It represents appreciation, gentleness, gratitude, innocence, romance and softness. Traditionally a feminine colour it is often used in products, causes and organisations with a female focus, for example breast and ovarian cancer charities.
Some well known organisations using pink in their logos are Barbie, BCNA, LG and the Royal Women’s Hospital.
Purple is the colour of royalty, nobility, luxury, and extravagance. It is also related to creativity, fantasy, mystery and sophistication. It is also said to evoke feelings of nostalgia.
Well known organisations using Purple in their visual identity include Cadbury, Hallmark, and the Premier League.
Brown is often used in logos related to construction and law due to its simplicity, warmth, and neutrality. It is associated with depth, earthiness, nature, roughness, richness, seriousness, subtlety and utility.
Due to its connection with the outdoors brown is often used in outdoor products and services as well as wholesome organic products.
Companies using brown include Nespresso, M&Ms, UPS.
White and Black
White suggests simplicity, cleanliness, equality, impartiality and fairness. It is the blank canvas waiting to be written on, opening the way for the creation of anything the mind can conceive.
Black is a serious colour that evokes strong feelings of power, elegance, and authority. It is associated with authority, class, distinction, formality, mystery, secrecy, seriousness, elegance, and tradition.
Famous logos that use black and white are Apple, Coco Chanel, WWF.
Organisations like eBay, Google and the Olympic games use multiple colours in their logos to communicate that they are boundless, diverse, multidisciplinary and/or playful.
“I prefer living in colour.”
– David Hockney
Used wisely and with careful consideration of its customer demographics, companies can use colour to positively influence consumer perceptions of their products. A visual identity with a colour scheme that amplifies an organisations brand promise will help build trust and attract customers. Conversely, a colour palette inconsistent with a company’s identity or products can be detrimental. Would Victoria’s Secret enjoy the same success if their logo was blue instead of pink, or Ferrari sell as many cars if they were green?
A well chosen colour scheme can help tell the world who you are and what you stand for. Choose wisely.
We’ll be talking about about shape, and how different shapes imply different character traits.
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References and further reading:
Empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com – Judy Scott-Kemmis
‘Psychology Of Color In Logo Design’ – The Logo Company
‘Complete Guide to Color in Design: Color Meaning, Color Theory, and More’ – Alex Clem, Shutterstock.
‘Color Meaning’ – Color Wheel Pro
‘How to Create a Distinct Color Palette for Your Brand’ – Lauren Hooker, Elle & Company