Colour Psychology in Web & Graphic Design

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Adam Cook

The effects of colour in marketing can be HUGE. 

It’s probably the most significant tool in a marketer and designer’s toolbox. Yet, a lot of the time, we completely ignore the psychology behind the colours we use, and how these design choices might make our audience react. In this post, we’re going to show you what it means to be colour conscientious.

If you want to understand how simple colour theory can drive brand success for your business, then you’ll find the answers here. 

Let’s get started. 

What is Colour Psychology?

Colour psychology refers to the study of hues, how hues affect human behaviour, and how colour influences someone’s perception of something. Psychology is purely about the brain and how it interprets different colours to have meaning – So it’s more scientific than you think! Not to mention, this theory has been applied to other medical areas, including personality tests and linked to the effectiveness of pill colours in placebo tests. 

Colour is everywhere!

Did you know that 77% of world flags contain the colour red

Or that all colours are just different wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum? Our eyes perceive each wavelength as a different colour. 

So the colour is all in the eye of the beholder. It’s a good job we all, more or less, share the same colour visibility. But how does this apply to business, design, and marketing? 

How colour is used throughout business websites

We studied 500 business websites in 9 separate sectors, and the results were astonishing!

For starters, the most prominent colour combination was grey and blue by far. It didn’t matter which sector we were looking at. These colours were top favourites. 

The Meaning of Colour

Let’s breakdown the emotions behind colour, and our conscious and subliminal reactions to different hues. 

Red Symbolism

Red is the opposite of blue. Red accelerates our pulse and blood flow. Red stimulates our senses of smell and taste, making us more sensitive to our environments. Red also stimulates the adrenal gland, making us more susceptible to take action and giving us more energy. Red may be a physical stimulant.

In East Asian cultures like China, Red is the colour for luck. Although times are changing and lots of Chinese brides now wear white, it’s traditionally the colour for weddings. In Indian culture, it symbolises purity and is usually utilised in their wedding gowns. It is of very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are often painted Red. In heraldry, Red is employed to instil courage. It’s a colour found in many national flags.

Red brings text and pictures to the foreground. It can be used as an accent colour to stimulate people to form quick decisions; it’s an ideal colour for ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons and call to actions on Internet banners and websites. In advertising, red is usually used to evoke erotic feelings (red lips, red nails, red-light districts, ‘Lady in Red’, etc.). Red is also widely used to indicate danger (high voltage signs, traffic lights). This colour is additionally commonly related to energy, so you’ll use it when promoting energy drinks, games, cars, items associated with sports and high physical activity.

On the other hand, it should be used sparingly. There are three primary negative connotations attached to the colour red, those being its association with the Communist movement and the Biblical idea of Hell, and it’s vibrancy being harsh for casual viewing. As mentioned before, red is used on many country’s flags, those that use it across the entirety of the flag are commonly associated with the Communist ideology and the context of authoritarianism and oppression and thus would not have good connotations for your website if this colour is overused. The idea of Red being overused could also be linked to the biblical interpretation of Hell, which could cause offence to many religious groups and communities, in the past there have been examples of red being used with satanic connotations and that have evaded criticism – one famous example being the Manchester United club logo, which uses the depiction of a devil as its mascot with the colour red being present throughout the logo and team kit. The final connotation is the most common issue that will be faced if the colour red is chosen for your website, the vibrancy of the colour red is very harsh for casual viewing, causing irritation and eye strain when viewed for a short amount of time, creating a negative impact on potential viewers. How this can be avoided is through experimentation with hues, colour temperature and combinations to make the website more accessible to the masses.

Blue symbolism

Blue is the colour of the sky and sea, often related to depth and stability. It symbolises intelligence, trust, confidence, intelligence, wisdom, faith, truth, heaven and loyalty.

Blue is taken into account beneficial to the mind and body. It has been shown to slow human metabolism and produce a relaxing effect. Blue is strongly related to tranquillity and quietness. In heraldry, blue is employed to symbolise piety and sincerity.

You can use blue to market products and services associated with cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids, vodka), air and sky (airlines, airports, air conditioners), water and sea (sea voyages, mineral water). As against emotionally warm colours like red, orange, and yellow; BlueBlue is linked to consciousness and intellect, it can also be used to suggest precision when promoting products that are high-tech.

Blue may be a masculine colour; consistent with studies, it’s highly accepted among males. Navy is related to depth, expertise, and stability; it’s a preferred colour for corporate America.

Avoid using it when promoting cooking and food as it has also been shown to suppress appetite. When used alongside warm colours like yellow or red, blue can help to create designs that appear high-impact and vibrant; for instance, the combination blue-yellow-red has been used to create colour schemes for many different superheroes since the early 20th Century.

Most blues convey a way of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding. However, blue evolved as a symbol of depression in American culture. “Singing the blues” and “feeling blue” are good examples of the complexity of colour symbolism and how it’s been evolved in several cultures.

Trivia:

  • Blue has been polled as the favourite colour of all people.
  • 53% of the flags within the world contain blue.
  • Blue is the most ordinarily used corporate identity colour, with navy suits proving as one of the most popular professional business attire.

Green symbolism

Green is commonly known as the colour of nature. It symbolises growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety.

However, in this day and age, GreenGreen is no longer just a colour, being known predominantly as the symbol of ecology and a verb.

Green has a great relaxing vibe, it’s overall the most restful colour for the human eye; having the potential to improve vision. Green suggests stability and endurance, but sometimes denoting lack of experience; for instance, a ‘greenhorn’ may be a novice. 

In heraldry, GreenGreen indicates growth and hope. Green, as against red, means safety; it’s the colour of free passage in road traffic.

You should use green highlight safety when advertising drugs and medical products, as GreenGreen is directly associated with nature, so you should use it to market ‘green’ products. The dull, darker GreenGreen is usually related to money, the financial world, banking, and Wall Street, relating to themes of ambition, greed, and jealousy.

Yellow-green can indicate sickness, cowardice, discord, and jealousy.

Aqua is related to emotional healing and protection.

Olive green is known as the traditional colour of peace.

Unique meanings:

In China, Green may symbolise infidelity. A green hat symbolises that a man’s wife is cheating on him.

In Israel, green may symbolise bad news.

In Japan, the word “ao” has the same meaning (blue and green).

In Spain, racy jokes are associated with the colour green.

Purple symbolism

Purple is a combination of Blue’sBlue’s steadiness and Red’s energy. Purple is heavily associated with royalty and wealth. It symbolises power, nobility, luxury, ambition and extravagance. Purple is related to mystery, creativity, wisdom, dignity, independence and magic.

Over the course of history, purple pigments and dyes have become less expensive and sophisticated to manufacture and reproduce. However, one thing has remained the same: Purple still symbolises nobility and luxury to most of the world.

One of the foremost significant aspects of purple’s symbolism is that the generational divide. There’s an enormous difference in opinions about purple. It all depends on age. Most children view purple as a cheerful colour, but it has very different interpretations from people from older generations and foreign cultures.

According to surveys, almost 75 per cent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all or any other colours. Purple is very rarely seen in nature; with some considering it to be artificial in most cases.

Light purple may be a good selection for a female design. You can also use bright purple when promoting children’s products.

Yellow symbolism

Yellow is the colour most associated with sunshine, commonly linked ideas of joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.

Yellow is a very warming colour; it arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. 

Bright, pure Yellow is an attention-getter, which is the main reason why most taxicabs have been painted this colour. 

Yellow is seen before other colours when placed against black; this mix is usually used to issue a warning. In heraldry, yellow indicates honour and loyalty, but in recent centuries, the meaning of Yellow also developed into a slur, being used to brand people as cowards.

Use yellow to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings. You’ll choose yellow to market children’s products and items associated with leisure. Yellow is extremely effective for attracting attention, so use it to spotlight the foremost important elements of your design. On average, men tend to perceive yellow as an unprofessional and ‘childish’ colour, so using yellow when selling prestigious, expensive products to men is not recommended, as no-one will find a yellow suit or a yellow Mercedes appealing. 

When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect; it has been found that newborns dislike the colour yellow. 

Yellow is associated with unstable and spontaneous ideas and themes, so avoid using yellow and use colours such as Blue if you would like to suggest stability and safety. 

Light Yellow tends to disappear into WhiteWhite, so it always needs a dark colour to spotlight it. Most shades of yellow are visually unappealing as they lose their air of cheerfulness and become dingy.

Orange symbolism

Orange is a combination of Yellow’s joyfulness and Red’s energy. It is related to tropical themes of joy and sunshine. Orange can represent enthusiasm, relaxation, happiness, fascination, attraction, determination, success, encouragement, and stimulation.

Nevertheless, orange isn’t as aggressive as Red. As a citrus colour, it is related to healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange is the colour of fall and harvest. In heraldry, it symbolises strength and endurance.

Orange has very high visibility, so you’ll use it to catch attention and highlight the foremost important elements of your design. Orange is extremely effective for promoting food products and toys.

Trivia:

  • Orange is both the name and emblematic colour of royalty in the Netherlands.
  • In the US, orange is commonly associated with the colour of prison uniforms.
  • Orange has connotations of Northern Irish Protestantism, having very strong religious and political significance in the United Kingdom.

White symbolism

White represents light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity, light, heaven and faith, cleanliness, safety, brilliance, illumination, understanding, beginnings, sterility, spirituality, possibility, humility, protection, softness, and sincerity.

Objects and products are often marketed in the colour white due to it representing perfection. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.

In advertising, WhiteWhite is related to coolness and cleanliness because it is the colour of snow. You should use white to suggest simplicity and elegance in high-tech products. White is an appropriate colour for charitable organisations due to how angels are usually in WhiteWhite and how they represent purity. White is related to hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you’ll use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products. White is usually related to low weight, low-fat food, and dairy products.

In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity. Since it is the opposite of Black – movies, books, medium, and TV typically depict the protagonists in light colours and the antagonist in darker colours.

With it being the colour of snow, WhiteWhite is also used to represent coolness and ease.

White’s association with cleanliness and sterility is usually seen in hospitals, medical centres, and laboratories to evoke safety to visitors. It is also used in low-fat foods and dairy products due to the similarity in hue.

White may be a bright and brilliant colour to use, but it can also cause headaches when viewed in excess. In extreme cases, the colour can even be blinding.

Black symbolism

Black is related to power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.

Black may be considered ominous as it is typically related to the unknown or the negative. It always features a negative connotation (Blacklist, Black Humour, ‘The Black Death’). It is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious colour – examples, Black Tie, Black Mercedes-Benz.

The colour Black gives the sensation of perspective and depth, but a black background can also diminish readability. When designing for a gallery of art or photography, you should use a black or grey background to ensure that the opposite colours stand out. Black contrasts well with bright colours. When combined with red or orange – other very powerful colours – black gives a really aggressive colour scheme.

Black is required for all other colours to possess depth and variation of hue.

The black colour is created through the absence of colour. It can represent strength, seriousness, power, and authority. Black may be used to show formality, elegance, prestige, authority and power.

The colour Black is often associated with topics that are serious, professional, and traditional, but it can also represent the mysterious, attractive, and complicated. Black may be a visually slimming colour for clothing, and like other dark colours, in interior design, Black can make an area appear to shrink in size.

In western countries, Black is associated with mourning, death, and sadness. Black often is used to representing the emotions and actions of rebellion in teenagers and youth. 

As the opposite of White: movies, books, print media, and television typically depict the protagonist in WhiteWhite and the antagonist in Black. In more recent times, the protagonist is shown in Black to create mystery around the character’s identity.”

The colour Black can evoke strong emotions, and an excessive amount of Black is often overwhelming to view.

choosing the right colour for your web and graphic design