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Color in design: The psychology behind color

Do we as humans respond differently to specific colors? And does it impact the results we are after? Initially we might think that it doesn't matter, but colors in design really do have an impact on its viewer.

Making use of color in digital design is an excellent way to influence the way a visitor or viewer feels about a design or a website.

Any company you find online makes use of color in some way to influence their viewers, so it is important to choose colors that resonate with the mission of that business. A color, when picked correctly, can trigger the desired action from a consumer.

This blog is part of a deep-dive series on the topic of color. Before you read further I advise you to start at the beginning: Color in design: An introduction

What is color psychology?

Color psychology is how color affects our emotions and behaviors. Depending on your culture, preferences and upbringing colors can make you feel a certain way.

Why does the psychology of color selection matter?

Did you ever notice how a color can effect you?

Let's take the emotional link with the color green, it can infuse a sense of peace and is mostly associated with nature and therefore a great use in bio and organic products.

And take the color red for example, a red piece of clothing can make you feel excited and passionate, while on the other hand the color red can be a warning or represent anger.

Color influences you in a certain way, but the meaning of a color is dynamic, it needs context.

This context is either from your own perspective, experience or from your culture.

A company's perspective on picking a color:

As a company that manufactures bio-organic shampoo, we want our brand to invoke a feeling of nature and trust.

We believe that selecting the right color plays a big role in generating the right emotions.

We need to combine the core colors people associate with bio-organic and emphasize this on our website, our product and compliment this with a color that communicates trust and clarity.

In this case, and based on many products in the bio-organic industry green and white would be a perfect fit for the product.

Many companies also use skin tone colors and gold to communicate a sense of ease, trust and a premium feel.

Color and Cultural influence.

Something else to account for is that different colors also evoke different emotions depending on culture.

For example, blue is viewed as a masculine color in the west and U.S. but feminine in China.

And red in western cultures means passion, anger or danger, while representing luck and joy in the Eastern cultures.

Selecting the right color can have great impact on the reaction of your viewers and how they feel about your company or product.

It can inspire trust or elicit a feeling of calmness and excitement.

That's why every color should be picked according to the message you want to communicate so you are able to strategically contribute to the overall goal of the design at hand.

What does each color represent?

Looking for an overview of what all the colors are mostly associated with? Here you find a list of the most used colors and what they represent.

All colors have positive associations and negative associations.

This makes sense, as most of the beliefs we have around color are either from personal experience, specific cultures or educated by law.

But nature has it's own language and way with color so there are some fundamental truths.

Red

The color red is mostly associated with evoking strong or passionate emotions. Love, comfort, confidence, warmth, excitement and passion are some of the more positive emotions connected to this color.

Anger and danger are some of the negative feelings induced by the color red.

Positive emotional response

  • warmth
  • excitement
  • enthusiasm

Negative emotional response

  • Aggressiveness
  • Danger
  • Impatience
  • Dominant

Green

Green carries many connotations and connections.

While generally associated with nature, it also is connected with soothing, calming and health-giving feelings.

Green can also be associated with money, jealousy, good luck and fertility.

Positive emotional response

  • rejuvenation
  • natural
  • lively
  • freedom

Negative emotional response

  • rot
  • jealousy
  • boredom

Blue

Blue is viewed as a calming and serene color.

It’s often considered stable and non-threatening and can promote a tranquil, peaceful emotion.

Blue is also connected with feelings of icy distance and sadness.

Positive emotional response

  • logic
  • intellect
  • trust
  • stability
  • loyalty

Negative emotional response

  • conservative
  • cold
  • distant

Yellow

Yellows are generally cheerful and warm colors, but have also been found to induce feelings of frustration and anger.

Yellow is the most eye-catching of colors, so it’s often used to draw attention on traffic signs or capture the viewer’s eye in an advertisement.

Positive emotional response

  • happiness
  • confidence
  • lust for life

Negative emotional response

  • annoying
  • overstimulating
  • angst

Orange

Orange is typically correlated with excitement, enthusiasm and warmth.

It’s an energetic color that tends to draw attention, which is why it’s often used on traffic signs.

Citrus fruits and the refreshing sensation of beauty are also commonly linked with the color orange.

Positive emotional response

  • friendly
  • playful
  • open-hearted

Negative emotional response

  • cheap
  • frivolous
  • childish

Pink

Pink is associated with romance and love, as is clearly seen on most affectionately themed chocolates and cards doled out around Valentine’s Day.

Pink also evokes a certain sense of ease in viewers.

Culturally, many categorize pink as a feminine color and therefore think of kindness, softness and compassion.

Positive emotional response

  • energizing
  • calming
  • lovely
  • cheerful

Negative emotional response

  • weak
  • needy
  • helpless

Purple

Purple is often described as mysterious, imaginative and spiritual.

It’s also generally associated with wealth and royalty, because back in the day many kings would wear purple clothing.

Positive emotional response

  • creativity
  • luxury
  • comfort
  • royalty

Negative emotional response

  • Introversion
  • diversification
  • inferiority

White

Culturally, white has long been associated with cleanliness, innocence and purity.

This is why the bride classically wears a white wedding dress.

On the flip side, it can also be viewed as cold, sterile or bland, so it’s important to use white appropriately.

Positive emotional response

  • peace
  • cleanliness
  • clarity

Negative emotional response

  • sterile
  • cold
  • indifferent

Black

Used often in fashion for a slimming effect, black is normally a color associated with death or fear.

Coming from Halloween, movie culture and funerals.

These days, in User Interface design, from my perspective black and grey shades are associated with not blinding myself and my users.

Positive emotional response

  • elegance
  • authority
  • glamourous

Negative emotional response

  • darkness
  • threatening
  • intimidating

Consider your colors wisely

Using color in design is way more than just choosing some colors that seem to fit together.

Having a deep understanding of the psychology behind each color and knowing how to implement this is one of the fundamental skills of design.

Next time when you are designing a brand system or website, take the meaning of each color into account and let it represent the language your client or business wants to communicate.

(Re) sources

If you want to know more about the psychology of color, here are the resources I used to learn the psychology of color:

All emotional aspects of specific colors explained

What impact does color have on your business?

Adobe color wheel

Books: Brandlife books on branding in context

Book: Universal Principles Of Design

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