You’re probably aware that colors have the ability to communicate different meanings and the power to make us feel a particular way, or take specific actions. If not, consider the simplest example of a red light that immediately tells you to STOP while a green light says GO. Or even more foundational, consider how the reptilian brain tells you that fire (red/orange) is HOT and water (blue) is COOL. Pretty neat, huh?
The psychology behind how color communicates certainly gets more complex than that, especially when you consider how multiple colors layered together impact mood, productivity and behavior. Let’s break it down to basics and take a brief look at the power of color in communication.
Color Speaks Volumes
Everything from the color of your office walls and your logo to the cover of your annual report and even your website is designed and chosen for reasons beyond aesthetics. As brand marketers, we make very intentional color choices for every aspect of your brand to effectively communicate the intended message and how we want your target audience to receive it. Color factors into this equation just as thoughtfully and with as much care and precision as the words and fonts we select or the medium in which we choose to communicate.
In general, reds and oranges are more energetic in nature, and blues, greens and purples are more tranquil, but properties such as lightness, hue, saturation, and layering also influence the choices people will make. Correct color choices are essential since any deviation may produce a very different result than intended—putting your time, money and brand at risk.
While there are thousands upon thousands of color possibilities, I’ve broken this down into the attributes for just the Basic Color Families. However, keep in mind that within each basic family, there are multiple variations that add nuances to your message.
One of the strongest, most dominant colors on the spectrum, red is the color of blood and is often used to signify a heart. As a result, red is capable of expressing deep emotions while also engrained in our brains as a signal to take action. Some of the attributes of the color red include:
Our brains register blue as tranquil and constant, so we perceive it as trustful and respectful. Think about blue ribbons in the context of quality or a surgeon’s scrubs as trusted and careful. Blue is often used in religions to indicate justice and moral behavior, and it’s also the most popular color for corporate brands. Blue tells us that something is:
From the moment we grab our first Crayola®, we’re compelled to portray the sun as a big yellow ball. Yellow is warm and suggests light, curiosity and energy. It’s also an important color in development, heightening awareness and creating clarity. Attributes of yellow include:
The orange fruit originated in the South China Sea, and when it was imported to Europe, there actually was no word for it, according to my bible on color psychology by Leatrice Eiseman. By its very nature, orange is exotic, and like its mother color red, orange is a vital, high-energy color balanced by its connection to yellow which makes it more welcoming and pleasant. Some attributes of orange:
Run outside and notice what color you see first? Probably green—the color most associated with nature and literally the one we see more than any other color on the spectrum. Grass, trees, plants—they all signify renewal, so green is often used to indicate sustainability. Some attributes of green:
People generally either love or hate purple. We happen to love it if ya couldn’t tell ; ). As a color that is right in between red and blue, it is often misunderstood by our left-brained friends. Purple is mystical, magical and signifies spiritual properties. It can also indicate royalty. Some attributes of purple are:
The symbol of purity and light, white also signifies newness like fresh, powdery snow, cleanliness like crisp, white sheets, or even silence as in “white” noise. White’s attributes include:
One of the sleekest colors, which really is just the absence of light, black gives the illusion of elegance, power and depth. It’s as classic as a black Cadillac® and as elegant as the LBD (little black dress). ; ) Attributes of black include:
From the love affair we have with chocolate to the comfort that first cup of joe brings to us every morning (especially us TISers!), brown is a rich, appetizing color that indicates deliciousness and also a connection to the earth. Brown tells us something is:
Grays, taupes, and off-whites make up the neutrals. Gray represents the mid-point between black and white, and as such is a true neutral. It can be perceived as responsible and dedicated, which is why a gray suit is often suggested attire to wear for a power interview. It also can be warm and comforting like sand on a beach. Neutral color attributes include:
If you’re interested in digging deeper, Pantone and Color Psychology.org are great resources with a plethora of information. Leatrice Eisman, the Color Expert, is also an excellent source.
The Dewey Color System offers color assessments to help people determine the career path that best suits them. You can also get some insight into your psychological profile based on your color preferences. See, color is much more impressive than you once thought, isn’t it? : )