Colour is a perception of the human eye. When we look at something, the data travels from our eyes to our brains, and we perceive it as a certain colour; for example, the blue sky. The theory of colour, charged with meaning by society, explains the subliminal and cultural messages that colours can create and communicate.
“Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” –Oscar Wilde 
So from the perspective of a graphic designer, why should you consider the psychology of colour?
It’s important that the colour ‘fits’ the product, or products, being sold. Society has created an array of meanings and connotations for each shade of the colour spectrum, and we tend to read into these without even realising we’re doing it. When you walk through the soft drinks isle of a shop, looking for the multi pack of Coca Cola cans, do you look for the logo, or the well known shade of red?
We decide whether or not we like a product in ninety seconds or less— and 90% of that decision is based entirely on colour, according to a study titled ‘Impact of Colour on Marketing Colour’ . is a crucial tool in design and branding, as it impacts how we think, behave and react; it directs us where to look, what to do, and what to consider important and unimportant.
So it’s crucial, as a graphic designer, that your branding and design considers the psychology of colour.
“One can speak poetry just by arranging colours well.” —Vincent Van Gogh .
The psychology of colour has been studied and analysed over time, however the impact of colour is still a vague subject— it depends on individual demographic and previous experiences with colours from significant events, cultures, people, and memories. However, there are a few general responses to colour. if you’ve ever found yourself wondering why fast food companies like to use red, and why social media tends to lean towards blue, you can read into the following conventions of colour:
Red is a striking, exciting and powerful colour that may reflect passion, affection and love— it may also link to terror, fear, and survival. It’s a colour surged with energy, but it can arouse negative connotations such as aggression and pressure. Red has been proven to boost appetite, and increase heart rate, so it’s good for branding companies that want their customers to buy impulsively.
Red examples: Kellogs, Lego and Coca Cola.
Yellow is psychologically the happiest colour in the spectrum— no doubt this won’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the smiley face— and the first colour that infants will respond to. It connotes cheerfulness and optimism, so it’s perfect for boosting confidence, lifting the spirit, or inspiring an audience.
Yellow examples: McDonalds, Snapchat and Pokemon.
Orange is a combination of red’s passion and yellow’s friendliness, making orange the perfect representation of comfort, fun and freedom. Orange has proven to be a motivating colour, which can create a positive and enthusiastic attitude. It has also been said to increase brain activity, due to it’s eye-catching nature.
Orange examples: Fanta, Harley Davidson and Nickelodeon.
Green is a clean, emotional and logical shade, which encourages a sense of balance and harmony. It separates right from wrong, and reminds most audiences of nature, relaxation and peace. As a sign of growth, this can reflect plants and nature, or income and wealth. When branding, green implies to the consumer that your company is environmentally friendly. This explains why it is so popular with organic and vegetarian brands, as well as ethical practices.
Green examples: Starbucks, Tropicana and Spotify.
Blue can be an indicator of security, loyalty and trust. It has also been proven that people are the most productive when they work in blue rooms. Brands that use this colour are often perceived as strong and dependable; the colour may also connote a sense of intelligence, but can have negative implications such as sadness and coldness, fear, and masculinity.
Blue examples: Facebook, Oral-Band Ford.
Purple is considered a very regal and wise colour, and represents creativity and ambition. It may convey wealth, luxury and nobility too, and has a thrilling and dramatic flair. However, the colour may appear mysterious, and this may be off-putting in certain scenarios.
Purple examples: Yahoo, Aussie and Cadbury.
Pink is a gentler, calmer version of red, which generates a sense of compassion, care, and love. It is also associated with sweetness, and may be seen in logos for sweet foods, like ice cream and doughnuts. It is a sign of hope, also well known for romance and femininity, and encourages sensitivity and empathy.
Pink examples: Barbie, Superdrug and Victoria Secret PINK.
Whilst brown may not be the most visually stimulating of colours, is a friendly, earthy and secure colour, which can connote support and longevity. It is a serious, down to earth colour, but the downfalls are that it’s often seen as boring, dogmatic and reserved. It is often commonly used for selling chocolate, as the rich colour is associated with the foods, and can boost the consumer’s appetite for chocolate.
Brown examples: M&M’s, Nescafe and Magnum.
Black is the colour of intensity, professionalism and formality. Black can also show consumers that your brand is mysterious and exclusive, as well as stylish and sleek, as the brand doesn’t need bright colours to draw attention. However, this colour is a strong reflection of evil and depression, and can make the viewer feel insignificant, causing sadness and negativity.
Black examples: Gucci, Prada and BBC.
White symbolises goodness, innocence and purity, making it the perfect example of cleanliness and peace. It can represent new beginnings, and has a powerful equal balance of all colours. However, it can be a bleak and lonely colour, and can make the viewer feel isolated.
White examples: Apple, Wikipedia and Audi.
A survey was conducted, in which people said which colour they associated with particular words :
Trust: Most responses said blue (34%), followed by white (21%) and green (11%).
Security: Blue was most popular (28%), then black, (16%) and then green (12%).
Speed: Red was the favourite choice (76%).
Cheapness: Orange was first (26%), followed by yellow (22%) and then brown (13%).
High Quality: Black was the most popular choice (43%), then blue (20%).
Reliability: Blue was first (43%), followed by black (24%).
Fun: Orange was most popular (28%), followed by yellow (26%) and then purple (17%).
Although these associations of colour are often the most broad, this doesn’t mean that they’re always the best colours to use when branding. The statement, ‘green connotes calm,’ doesn’t fit when you think about the soft drink brand, Seven Up, and the energy drink, Monster— instead the colour reflects excitement and youth, encouraging a refreshing vibe. brown may create a rugged and rustic aura around a brand, such as Saddleback Leather, however, on the other end of the scale, most chocolate brands use brown for it’s rich and appetising connotations. In almost every case, it’s far more important to support the personality and persona of your brand, then to try and match the stereotypical associations of colour.
So in truth, there are no strict guidelines for choosing brand colours, but each different colour may promote your brand slightly differently. Understanding colour psychology will push you to make effective branding choices, like what colour the brand should be, and what emotions that colour will evoke in your audience. Not only will this knowledge help you with your own designs, but you’ll have a better understanding of what your competition is doing!
If you need help understanding colour theory, have any questions, or need any advice, contact Cloud Ten Group and we’ll gladly discuss the vast spectrum of colour theory.