Colors are very important when it comes to branding and design. In fact, almost 90% of consumers cite color as a primary factor in their buying decisions.
In order to make a thoughtful decision when choosing which colors to use in your design and packaging, it’s helpful to understand color psychology.
The components of a color
Colors are made up of three different components: hue, value, and chroma. Together, these components create all the variations of colors you see in the world.
When you say the word color, most likely, you are thinking about hue. Hue is the color name, like blue, purple, or red.
Value refers to the brightness of a color. Brighter, higher value colors have more white in them, and are considered tints. Darker, lower value colors have more black in them, and are considered shades. For example, maroon is a lower value shade of red, while scarlet is a higher value tint of red.
Chroma refers to the saturation of a color. High saturation colors appear more vivid, while low saturation colors appear more faded or washed out.
Most discussions of color psychology focus only on the hues and leave out value and chroma. However, value and chroma make a huge difference in how people react to different colors. For example, navy probably feels different to you than sky blue or sapphire. They’re all variations of blue (the same hue), but they’re completely different colors.
Why people attribute meaning to colors
While different colors are associated with specific meanings, the way people think about colors is actually far more complex. Color associations are based on experience and culture, which is different for each person.
People’s experiences greatly shape how they feel about certain colors. For example, if you had a favorite green blanket as a small child, you will probably grow up to love the color green. On the other hand, if your mom made you take nasty tasting pills out of a green bottle, you may associate the color with negative experiences.
Because of this disparity in feelings about colors, it’s important not to take color meanings at face value. To one person, green may represent comfort, while it may repel another person. As I mentioned above, it’s also essential to take value and chroma into account when thinking about colors. One shade of green may have a completely different meaning to your or your customers than another shade of green.
Colors mean different things depending on what culture you’re from. For example, this article in the Huffington Post explains that yellow means vastly different things depending on the culture it’s associated with. In France, yellow means jealousy and betrayal, in China, it’s connected to the adult industry, and in Africa it’s associated with prestige.
When choosing your brand colors, think about the dominant culture of your target audience and choose colors with the right connotations for that audience.
When I was living in working in Australia as a graphic designer, I had this experience where I was influenced by my home culture without realizing it. I was designing a financial ad and used green to signify money, because in the U.S., green is associated with money.
My boss at the time expressed his disappointment when I showed him the ad. He asked me, “Why did you use that green; why didn’t you use yellow or purple?”
I instantly realized my mistake. Rather than incorporating the colors of Australian money, I had used a shade of green that was similar to our American currency. I had inadvertently brought in a color bias of my culture.
Color preferences based on age and gender
In addition to having different feelings about color based on experience and culture, people (unsurprisingly) also like different colors based on their age and gender.
You may think that women like pink more and men like blue more, but that’s not the case. Joe Hallock did a study in which he surveyed 232 people from 22 countries about their color preferences. He found that the favorite color overall was blue, regardless of age or gender. Orange was the least favorite color overall. Women tended to like purple more than men, and older people liked blue and white to the exclusion of the rest of the colors.
Interestingly, in his conclusion, Hallock stated that he didn’t have any solid answers to the questions that drove him to conduct the study. He realized that more research needed to be done on the associations different cultures made with colors.
Warm Colors vs. Cool Colors
When you look at the color wheel, one side of it is composed of warm colors like red, orange, and yellow, while the other side contains cool colors, like blue, green, and purple. Warm colors have a stimulating effect on the mind, while cool colors have a calming effect.
This is due to where certain colors are found in nature. Warmer colors are associated with the sun, blood, and fire. Cooler colors are associated with water, plants, and the coolness of the nighttime sky.
What different colors (hues) mean
As you look at the color associations below, keep in mind that these meanings are generalized. They do have some validity, but, as I discussed above, colors can’t be tied strongly to specific meanings because of the variance in experience and culture. However, it is important to keep in mind that people remember color and are emotionally affected by it. These loose meanings can help you convey the feelings and emotions you want people to associate with your brand.
- Sense Of Space
- Mourning (in some cultures/societies)
- Understated Elegance
- Thinning / Slimming
- Death Or Mourning
- Wealth Prosperity
- Mourning (in some cultures/societies)
As you can see, while there are meanings attributed to different colors, the deeper meaning of color is a more complex and nuanced subject. It isn’t wise to choose your brand colors based solely on these loose meanings. In my next post, I’ll be sharing more about how to choose your colors for your brand.