design delight 6: colour choice

Stir emotion with colour.

Did you know that consumers decide if they like a product within 90 seconds of seeing it? Did you know that 90% of that decision is based on colour?

Today we’ll look at the first of two important areas of colour theory:

Which emotions and feelings are associated with which colours.

Understanding this can help you avoid picking the wrong colours for your logo, visual identity and customer experiences involving web pages, ads, social content, interior design and print material.

How we perceive different colours.

If you scour the psychological research on how different colours make humans feel, there are quite a few common trends.

Now, let’s make this clear: Just because a colour is known to evoke certain feelings in people, doesn’t mean that it evokes those feelings in ALL people. Rather, it evokes them in a statistically significant amount of people, so much so that it is relevant enough to be researched and documented…

…which means the effect is more than large enough for you to leverage in your design.  So here are the common feelings and perceptions related to the 11 most popular colours used in brands and logos:

BLUE – Easily the most commonly used colour in branding. More than half of all logos have blue in them. Blue is known to evoke feelings of maturity and trust. This is one of the safest colours to use.

RED – Red is an extreme colour and using it inappropriately can cause serious mismatches for your brand.  Only use this colour if you want to evoke feelings of passion, excitement, vigour and playfulness. Even then don’t overdo it, as red can stimulate feelings of anger as well as signal warning. 

YELLOW – We associate yellow with sunshine, which is universally life-giving. Using yellow in your design can evoke feelings of happiness and youthful energy. However moderation is key. Try using it in smaller quantities as an accent colour, because yellow draws attention very easily and too much may evoke feelings of frustration and anger.

BLACK – Black is often used to promote a slick and modern image in brands with expensive, luxurious or highly sophisticated products.  Try to avoid using this colour heavily for brands with moderately and cheaply priced products, unless you have a strong mastery of all the other visual design principles.

ORANGE – Orange falls in between red and yellow in the degree of energy it evokes. Not fiery enough to evoke anger or passion, and not bright enough to evoke frustration. Using this colour can stimulate feelings of cheer and playfulness. Like yellow, it also easily draws the eye’s attention. Try to limit using orange for brands that deal with higher-end products.

WHITE – You guessed it. Our favourite colour, or lack thereof. White is the ultimate tool for contrast and negative space. It is found in almost every logo and of course on every page. The more white you can use in your designs, the more attention it will draw to the remaining visual elements. White is useful to create a clean, modern and open look.

GREEN – Green is interesting because unlike the other colours on this list, it isn’t heavily linked to any particular personality traits or feelings. Rather, its associations to the finance and gardening industries are mainly based on its pervasiveness in nature. 

PINK – Pink is the most feminine of colours and can also be used to promote youth, playfulness and luxury. Often used in clothing, jewelry and toiletry.

BROWN – This is one of the most rarely used colours in branding, which means using it can differentiate you from your competitors. Just make sure the colour fits your brand’s essence. Brown helps evoke feelings of reliability and it can help you establish a serious and rugged appeal. 

PURPLE – Purple is an exotic and sensual colour. It’s associated with wealth, sophistication, wisdom, art and imagination; a powerful colour to use when appropriate. Try not to overdo it though, because using too much can evoke feelings of distrust.

GRAY – Because gray falls indecisively between the two non colours – black and white – it lacks the ability to illicit powerful emotions, similar to that of green. For this reason, it can be used to convey a more mature and serious look as we go darker, and a more modern look as we go lighter.