It’s a well-studied fact that colors in the surrounding environment affect your psychological state, and make you feel calm and relaxed or excited and energized. This concept is important when deciding on what color to paint your walls at home, but it’s also relevant in graphic design when determining what color palette to use for your business brand. In fact, research has shown that a product’s color influences 60-80% of a consumer’s buying decision, so knowing how customers will perceive your product, service or brand is crucial.
When I develop color palettes, I think about the history of the color, the connotation that the color carries with it and what I’m reminded of when I see the color. For example, the color green conjures up images of grass, leaves and being outdoors in nature, making the color appropriate for the identity of a sustainable lifestyle company or a gardening business. I’ve also developed color palettes based on a particular style, referencing the color palettes and patterns found within that culture to create a similar mood. For example, colors and patterns from traditional Spanish culture are vibrant and lively, and create a distinct mood. Think about color the next time you visit a Spanish restaurant (or anywhere for that matter) and how the surrounding colors affect your perception of the brand and your overall experience.
Now that we know color creates an emotional response and can help define experiences, it’s important to intentionally select the right color(s) that will attract your customers and create the best association and response. Here are the most common colors, their meanings and potential use in design:
Passionate, Loving, Exciting, Energizing, Dangerous, Aggressive, Deadly
Red has a variety of meanings and uses based on the context. Red is the color of passionate love for Valentines Day, complete with red hearts and red roses. Conversely, red is also the color of blood and can symbolize bloody warfare, intense anger and danger that can lead to death. Its vibrancy and intensity makes a person feel alive, motivated and energized by increasing heart rate, making the color red a good choice for racing brands to simulate the adrenaline rush and intensity of the sport. Red has also shown to increase enthusiasm and stimulate hunger, which is why its often applied to brands in the food industry. Red makes a good accent color because its bold hue draws the eye to it, which is ideal to bring attention to warnings and important information in signage and information design.
Creative, Energetic, Warm, Inviting, Fun
Orange is bright and fun, making it ideal for a energetic fitness brand or fun children’s brand. Orange grabs attention without being obnoxious. We often see safety uniforms in bright orange as an alert, which is a good point of reference for companies in the construction industry.
Joyful, Warm, Hopeful, Optimistic
Yellow is bright and cheerful. It reminds us of our youth and springtime flowers on a sunny day. It has been shown to increase optimism, which is probably why yellow is so common in the food industry. Yellow also grabs our attention, making it an ideal choice when designing signage or other information design.
Natural, Healthy, Calming, Rejuvenating, Wealthy
Green reminds us of being in nature, creating a relaxing, tranquil environment. Nature is full of growth, which comes to mind when seeing the color green. In an urban setting, green can relate to monetary wealth because of the color of American currency. It’s also good for the financial sector because green evokes feelings of prosperity and growth.
Dependable, Trustworthy, Peaceful, Secure
Blue is a calming color that encourages feelings of safety, security, and peace of mind. It is very conservative and encourage feelings of stability, making blue an ideal choice for banks, accountants, religious organizations, and business corporations. Blue is considered a masculine color by most cultures, but is not limited to this use. It is a perfect color for island travel companies, creating a soothing experience near the blue coastal waters.
Noble, Luxurious, Wise, Spiritual
Purple is a color that was reserved for royalty, and still carries with it that same connotation of high-class luxury. The color purple is considered more feminine, as it appeals to this audience, and is often used in cosmetic brands and other companies marketing toward the female demographic. Purple is also a color that represents wisdom, both spiritual and mystic. I think this might be related to the purple of sunsets in a cloudy sky, moving from day to night.
Romantic, Feminine, Fresh, Whimsical
Pink is a derivative of red, making it closely tied to love. However, pink is less intense and more innocent love that focuses on romance. The color pink is considered very feminine in most cultures, and has a youthful image. It’s fun, flirty playfulness could be derived from it’s association childhood goodies, such as cotton candy and bubble gum. Pink has become branded as the color for the breast cancer community, and the female gender in general.
Strong, Reliable, Stable, Rustic
Brown is the color of soil and tree branches. The color brown reminds us of the sturdiness of elements in nature, from the wood that builds our houses to the trunks that support the trees. It is color of the dirt that supports life to the garden plants. Or perhaps brown reminds you of the dirtiness of being outdoors, depending on your focus and experience. Brown is a good color for coffee shops, reminding us of the colors and aroma of coffee beans. It’s also good for construction and businesses whose main role supports our way of life.
Powerful, Elegant, Modern, Mysterious, Formal
Black is (technically not) a color that represents timeless elegance and luxury. It is considered modern because black is not commonly found in nature, and is more often found applied to man-made materials. As the opposite of white, the color black is symbolic of shade and darkness that covers the unknown, thereby creating mystery and potentially evil connotations related to the underworld. It is a very serious color used for formal occasions, such as the black suit worn to a wedding or a black veil to a funeral.
Innocent, Pure, Simple, Clear, Clean
White is (technically not) a color that creates a sense of openness and space. It is the opposite of black, and symbolic of light that brings awareness, clarity and enlightenment. White is goodness and innocence in the purest form, relating to a heavenly spirit and the afterlife. White is good for creating a fresh, open design that communicates simplicity. It is a breath of fresh air that is often considered appropriate for a modern design aesthetic.
Conservative, Sophisticated, Practical, Solid, Mature
Gray is (technically not) a color that is neutral and creates an urban, sophisticated feel. It is the shade of the man-made materials concrete and metal, reminiscent of the solid city buildings and industrial settings. Gray is conservative because it doesn’t elicit a strong emotional response, making it feel more refined and mature in development. Gray is good for modern designs with urban sensibility, as well as for brands with solid, industrial or technical history.
The meaning of colors and their psychological effect are useful for helping to determine a color palette for a design project or business brand. Sometimes we choose particular colors because we are drawn to them, but having a reasoning behind the decision is important as well. I often use this information when deciding on a color scheme, but am also inspired by the colors of a particular setting or a certain mood or style when it comes to selecting the exact hue, saturation and color combinations.
The meaning of each color is not the only tool in a graphic designer’s kit, as design elements, layout, and writing style also play roles in setting the tone of a website, brochure and overall corporate image. However, color is a huge piece of the puzzle when trying to communicate visually and create a better user experience. That’s why knowing the effect each color has on our subconscious is important to ensure an effective result.
How much do you think color affects your experiences and perception of a brand?