The connections we make with colour during our lives stay with us forever: colour retains memories, and memories retain colour. Colour corresponds, communicates and has incredible cultural value and meaning. It informs us about everything in our surrounds, such as the change of the seasons (hello Spring!), whether to stop or keep going, and whether or not we should eat that very ripe looking banana in the fruit bowl.
Colour affects us emotionally, and enlightens us intellectually. It’s commonly believed that colour affects us in an extraordinary way: first it affects our mood, our mood affects our emotions, which in turn affects our decisions. When we consider this emotional effect, we begin to understand just how important colour is in design and that it is one of, if not the most important choice we as designers must make. It is such an inescapable part of everything we visually encounter in this world, that for many of us it becomes an intuitive choice. But how do we, as designers and marketers, move past the highly subjective preferences and end up with a combination that our customers will not only be happy with, but also engender just the right thoughts and feelings toward your brand that you want? The answer is a great understanding of colour theory and psychology and how it affects our perceptions.
We could look at colour theory in-depth, starting with the colour wheel and all that interesting stuff – but since we’re talking about how colour impacts upon brand perceptions, talking about the symbolism and meaning is a little more relevant.
Let’s look at some of the most common colours we see in branding and design, and just what emotional effects they have on us:
White: speaks of clarity, integrity and light. It represents purity, perfection and innocence and is the perfect foil for minimalistic design. White also gives us vital visual space, allowing designs to breathe and our eyes the ability to easily absorb what they see. Look around at all forms of design and check out just how much white space you see within….there is very good reason for it and most of us designers are just a little bit in love with what white can do.
Yellow: Symbolic of sunshine, happiness, youth and optimism – yellow has to be used carefully in branding as it can be difficult to visualize in some instances (white text or graphics on bright yellow for example). It can also create anxiety if used in excess and does have negative associations in some cultures such as cowardice, illness and caution. Used correctly though, it can evoke feelings of joy, energy and intellect and be useful in attracting attention. It produces a fresh, lively feeling and can be quite mentally stimulating.
Orange: This beautiful blend of red and yellow gives off feelings of joy and is associated with optimism, vibrancy, health, warmth and happiness. It can stimulate the appetite and encourage us to achieve. Classically used with blue, this combo symbolises energy, creativity and professionalism all wrapped up in one incredible parcel (case in point – see what’s being conveyed in our own branding?!).
Red: The colour of fire and earth, red traditionally symbolizes passion, vibrancy, energy, love and strength. It can be stimulating, aggressive, dominant, powerful and intense. When used in branding, it advances, communicates strength and confidence, is powerful and visually dominant. Some of the most enduring brands utilise red to its best abilities – Coca-Cola® anyone?
Green: A favourite hue amongst some of us (well, me!), green is the colour of nature, purity, health and luck. It is often used to communicate vitality, balance, freshness and a connection to the environment (think of all those organic, environmentally friendly brands out there). Green is also the largest colour family discernible to the human eye, so get out those Pantone® swatches and revel in the choices….
Blue: The colour of the sea and sky, blue in all its tones is the world’s most popular colour. It symbolizes tranquility, stability, peace and harmony. In some cases it represents sadness or despair (ever had “the blues”?). When used in branding, it projects an image of power, credibility, trust, loyalty and professionalism – and darker blues such as navy are often seen in corporate contexts to project seriousness and conservatism. This versatile and popular colour is widely used to great effect especially when combined with other hues.
Black: Black communicates a practical, classic, timeless quality. It is quiet, intense, and mysterious and has greater depth than any other colour. Often used to represent quality, black is extensively used throughout design and branding, either as a base or accent for a brighter colour, or as part of a monochrome palette (which is huge right now by the way!).
So as you can understand, the colour choices we make are critical when it comes to brand perception. Studies have proven that people’s initial judgements about brands and products are based largely on colour (about 60 to 90% of our lightning-quick assessments are based on colour alone – scary huh?), which just goes to show that our choices shouldn’t just be about what looks good, or what we like, but about what psychological effect these colours have on us.
Have a think about what your brand’s colour scheme is communicating – the answers could be very interesting! If you’d like an expert opinion our team of graphic designers and marketing strategists would love to review your brand.