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The Psychology of Colour: Is There Any Truth to It?

12 July 2017
Tutorials

The Psychology of Colour: Is There Any Truth to It?

Choosing a company’s brand colours is an extremely important decision. Research shows that 62-90% of a person’s assessment of a brand is made up from the colours alone. That’s because the colours you choose will become a big part of how customers recognise your client’s brand and how they establish a consistent identity. You need to choose colours which reflect the brand’s personality in some way but which will also distinguish them from their competitors.

It’s no wonder that people want to believe in a universal psychology of colour to make the decision easier. Wouldn’t it be great if colours could subconsciously affect human behaviour? If it were true, you’d simply have to work out the right combination of colours and your target audience would be instantly attracted to your brand. But does it really exist?

The short answer is no, not really; a person’s perception of colours is just too subjective to be reliable. Everyone has different experiences and associations with colours to be able to say for certain the red evokes feelings of anger or something. However, there are a couple of tricks you can use the next time a client comes to you looking for a rebrand…

Colours should ‘match’ the product

While it’s not possible to say, for instance, that yellow evokes feelings of optimism and youthfulness and blue evokes feelings of peacefulness and trust, it is possible to say that different products fit certain colours better than others. A customer might not look at some bright pink packaging and instantly feel feminine, but they might look at it and wonder why the brand chose to wrap a food product in a colour that doesn’t ‘match’ food produce.

There’s no real rule for how this works but it seems that people do prefer colours which are congruent with the product in question. Like in the example above, food brands don’t perform well in ‘non-edible’ colours such as pink, purple and blue. However, blue could work very well for cleaning and hygiene products.

Colour Affects Theory

Colour psychologist, Angela Wright, discovered a mathematical relationship between some colours and was able to divide them into four families, as you can see below. Each of these families, she claims, has its own personality which can be used when creating a brand. She calls this system the Colour Affects Theory.

Colour Affects 1

The first group of colours are all very bright, clear and warm with hardly any black in them. These colours are optimistic, playful and reflect an optimistic, playful personality. Negative associations with these colours could include feelings of frivolousness and being cheap.

Colour Affects 2

The second group of colours contains more grey to create some cooler tones. These colours give off a more collected, sophisticated vibe, perfect for brands who want to come across as calm or elegant. Unfortunately, they can also be perceived as elitist or uninviting.

Colour Affects 3

If your client’s brand wants to be known as passionate, strong and reliable, look to the third group. This group is full of rich, warm colours which contain a little black in their composition to make them stronger colours but pure black itself is not included in this group . Some people see brands using these colours as pretentious and, if not done properly, they can come across as a little old fashioned.

Colour Affects 4

Finally, the fourth group contains very clear, contrasting colours which can either be very light or very dark. These brands are associated with efficiency, and being driven to achieve. They’re usually perceived as very modern and at the forefront of their field. However, they can also be thought of as expensive and cold.

Know Your Target Audience

Regardless of whether there are any universal associations with particular colours, if you are targeting a specific demographic, the chances are that your audience will share some interests, including colour preference. Joe Hallock has done some substantial research on how gender and age can affect a person’s colour preferences which we’ll outline for you here. You should also be aware that other cultures can have very different associations for colours. We’ll discuss some of the differences here but if your client operates internationally then you should look into their cultural norms.

Gender

According to Hallock’s study, blue is the overall favourite among both men and women. 57% of men questioned named blue as their favourite compared to 35% of women. Interestingly, purple was the second most liked colour in women but was not named favourite by any of the men. Green was the second favourite for men. In terms of least favourite, women appear to dislike orange the most, followed closely by brown whereas men list them the other way round, with brown being their least favourite and then orange.

Age

Blue remains the most highly favoured colour among all ages and orange remains the least favoured. However there does seem to be a pattern of change as people grow older. It appears that people go from liking warm colours at a young age to preferring colder colours as the years go by. You must remember though, that this could be a trend in how the popularity in colours as a whole have changed rather than a change that necessarily comes with age. Like anything, colours come and go in fashion over the years.

Culture

One reason why there are no universal effects of colour could be the fact that different countries have hugely varying cultural associations with colours. We cannot cover all these differences here but we can talk about some of the more dramatic differences. The colour yellow, for example, is associated with joy and happiness in most of Western cultures whereas, in Eastern cultures, it is considered a sacred colour and one that depicts royalty. Then again, in Egypt, yellow is the colour of death; in France, jealousy; and in Greece, sadness. Another stark contrast is that of the colour white – in Western cultures it symbolises purity and peace but in Eastern cultures it is the colour they wear to funerals as it symbolises mourning. Finally, black in our culture is the colour of mourning but in Eastern cultures it is a sign of wealth and in Africa it is associated with age and wisdom.

Now that you know the art of deciding which colours to use, why not read our Ultimate Guide to Typography to find out which fonts can complete a company’s brand identity.


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