Colour Psychology and how it relates to influencing emotions is one of the most fascinating and controversial topics in marketing and design. Anyone in the business world today would understand and appreciate the impact of colour. If you are involved in marketing, display, design and advertising, there is always a need to keep up to date on the usage of colour as a means of instant communication.

If we take a basic definition of colour psychology, it is a study of hues as a determinant of human behaviour. Colour influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colours can also enhance the effectiveness of placebos. For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants. Since the topic of colour psychology is rather complex, we could spend hours going over research and getting into scientific details. However, there are some pretty simple concepts that will be summarized in this article and can be applied by business owners or marketing professionals on a daily basis.

“An executive for a paint company received complaints from workers in a blue office that the office was too cold. When the offices were painted a warm peach, the sweaters came off even though the temperature had not changed.” – Pantone

Digital Scratch did a pretty good job summarizing some of the key concepts of colour psychology and putting them in simple words.

There are the three primary colours of Red, Yellow and Blue. Then there are secondary colours of Green, Orange and Purple. Additionally, there are Tertiary colours that are combinations of the first two sets. Complimentary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel and often evoke feelings of excitement. Analogous colours are those that are close to each other on the colour wheel. These give a particular feeling whether it be warm and cozy or cold and depressing.

There are many different technical aspects when it comes to working with colours. In the print world, Pantone and CMYK are the colour formats, while online RGB and Hexadecimal is the medium. Because of this, it is important that both the web and graphic designers work closely on the colour process to make sure their colours transfer smoothly from one medium to another. A colour may look one way on a particular screen but when printed out it looks totally different. It is important to come up with a colour palate listing all of the different colour codes that will ensure a unified colour scheme throughout print and web.

Red is a very strong colour. It is a noticeable colour that is often used on caution and warning signs. It is often associated with “stop” or “beware”. It’s a hot colour that evokes a powerful emotion of passion, lust, sex, energy, blood and war. Red is a good colour to use for accents that need to take notice over other colours. Red is often used in flags for nations, as it is a symbol of pride and strength. It is also a sporty colour that many car manufacturers choose to showcase their signature vehicles.

Orange is a combination of Red and Yellow. It is also a bright and warm colour. It represents fire, the sun, fun, warmth and tropical images. It is considered a fun light colour that has appetizing qualities to it. Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain and stimulates mental activity. It is highly accepted among young people. As a citrus colour, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Any design relating to the tropics, something fun, easy going and youthful should incorporate some type of orange into the design. A darker, richer shade of orange can be associated with autumn.

Yellow is the brightest colour to the human eye. It represents youth, fun, happiness, sunshine and other light playful feelings. It is a cheerful energetic colour. Yellow is often used for children’s toys and clothes. Yellow is often hard to read when placed on a white background so designers must be careful when using yellow, that it isn’t too difficult to read or notice. Though yellow is a bright cheerful colour, as it starts to darken it, however, quickly becomes a dirty and unpleasant color. Yellow can also be associated with being scared and, cowards. The term “yellow belly” is proof of that.

Green is the colour of nature and health. It represents growth, nature, money, fertility and safety. Green is a relaxing colour that is easy on the eye and has a healing power to it. It is often used to represent anything having to do with health. Many pharmaceutical and nutritional companies use green in their logos and material to advertise safe natural products. Dark green is commonly associated with the military, money, finance, and banking. However, it can also be associated with being new or inexperienced as being green or a “greenhorn”. Green is becoming a very popular colour in design for websites.

Blue is a cool calming colour that shows creativity and intelligence. It is a popular colour among large corporations, hospitals and airlines.  It is a colour of loyalty, strength, wisdom and trust. Blue has a calming effect on the psyche. Blue is the colour of the sky and the sea and is often used to represent those images. Blue is a colour that generally looks good in almost any shade and is a popular colour among males. Blue is not a good colour when used for food as there are few blue foods found in nature and it suppresses the appetite.

Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Throughout history, purple has been associated with royalty, nobility and prestige. It symbolizes mystery, magic, power and luxury. Purple is often used to portray rich powerful kings, leaders, wizards and magicians. Purple combined with gold can be flashy and portray wealth and extravagance. Light purple and pink is good for a feminine design and is a popular colour among teenage girls. Bright purple along with yellow is commonly used in promoting children’s products. It gives the appearance of something that is fun and easy to do.

Black is often a colour used to portray something evil, depressing, scary or even death in western civilization.  It has negative imagery with it at times such as “blackmail” “blacklist” “black hole” etc. Black is also a very powerful colour that also portrays one of class elegance and wealth.  Classy clothing is designed in black from the “power suit” to the “sexy black dress” to formal “black-tie attire”. Black combined with other colours can have a very strong statement.  Black is a colour that can fit into almost every design to add contrast, type, and make the other colours stand out more.

White is often associated with being pure, clean, fresh and good. The colour of a fresh snowstorm brings up images of a peaceful and pure winter scene. White is a common background for Webster’s as it is easy to read black or dark text on it. When used with a design using lots of negative space it gives a very clean look to it. White is also used lots for charities and non-profit organizations to denote something good and positive. Hollywood often portrays their characters in white as being good; the white horse, the cowboy with the white hat, the white wizard etc.  White usually is associated with being pure and almost heavenly, it is associated with hospitals, doctors, and heaven.