We’ve all got a favorite color, sure, but does that mean it’s the right one for our graphic design project?
In short, the answer is probably not.
Just because I like a color doesn’t make it the right color for the job. Certain products deserve certain attention from specific people, and using the proper colors can help maximize the effectiveness that product in each of it’s different applications. Colors aren’t limited to products characteristically; they can be applied to any and every design you’ve ever seen in your life.
Take a second to think about it next time you see an ad or a billboard. Why was this color used and not that one, or why’s it colorless? After reading this, you may see your world differently when it comes to color.
Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Roy G. Biv. You may have head of him before, but here’s a little bit about his background.
Red is a special color, and is at the beginning of the color spectrum for good reason. Some of the many effects red has on our body is our brain releases the hormone epinephrine, and can cause us to breathe more rapidly while increasing blood pressure, pulse rate, heartbeat, and adrenaline, as well as GSR – Galvanic Skin Response, or sweaty palms.
These reactions are physiological, and we have no control over the effect. Red is imprinted on the human mind to connect with excitement and high energy.
Warm Red Tones
- High arousal threshold
- Aggressive in nature
- Commands attention
- Demands action
- Good for point of purchase marketing
Deep Red Tones (burgundy, wine)
- Still maintain excitement but more subdued
- More authoritative
- Good choice for expensive products
- Attention-getting power of red but a more refined approach to products
Orange has been shown to exert a measurable effect on the autonomic nervous system, which stimulates the appetite. Taste-wise, it is inevitably connected to the sweet tang of the fruit that bears its name. Orange contains the drama of red tempered by the cheerful good humor of yellow.
Warm Orange Tones
- Childlike (good for games, toys)
- Comedic (shouldn’t be taken too seriously)
- Good for healthcare products
- Food service or packaging
Lighter Orange Tones (peach, coral)
Vivid orange tones
- Highly visible point of purchase
- Radiates warmth
- “Ethnic” themes (Mexican salsa red-oranges or Indian curries)
Yellow is one of the brighter colors, and is often described as cheery and warm. Yellow is also the most fatiguing to the eye due to the high amount of light that is reflected by it. Yellow is believed to be able to increase the metabolism. Since yellow is the most visible color, it is also the most attention-getting color. Yellow can be used in small amount to draw notice, such as on traffic signs or advertisements.
Yellow Mid Tones
Bright Yellow Tones
Of all the colors of the spectrum, green provides the most choices. Green is a cool color that symbolizes nature and the natural world. Green represents tranquility, good luck, health, and jealousy, amongst many other things. Research is said to have proven that green can improve reading ability. Green has always been a symbol of fertility and was once the preferred color choice for wedding gowns years ago. Even today, green M & M’s are said to send a sexual message, hence their character being a sexy woman.
Blue-Green Tones (aqua)
Light Green Tones (mint)
- Beauty products
Dark Green Tones (kelly)
- Often associated w/nausea and illness
- Bodily Fluids
Vegetable Greens (lettuce, broccoli)
- Gardening motif
- First buds of spring
As it is constantly associated with sky and water, blue is perceived as constant and reliable in our lives. Humans are soothed and replenished when they view blue and there is some evidence that when blue enters our line of vision, the brain sends out chemical signals that work as a tranquilizer. Blue is used in hospitals on surgeons, nurses and the walls of operating rooms, and blue is an excellent choice for areas demanding mental concentration or for products and environments that invite concentration or relaxing, “meditative” moods.
Mid Blue Tones
- Inspires confidence
- Associated with water (clean, cold)
Dark Blue Tones (navy)
- Invest power
- Used on uniforms (policemen, airline pilots)
Brilliant Blue Tones
- Expresses exhilaration
Depending on the value or intensity, pink has drastic mood swings. Pinks are perceived as sweet-tasting and sweet-smelling. Pink is essentially a light red and is usually associated with love and romance. It is thought to have a calming effect, but it is dependent on the saturation and tone used.
Medium Pink Tones (rose)
- Optimistic (rose-colored glasses)
- Health care products
- Cosmetic products
- Facial salons
- Product packaging connected to these areas
Light Pink Tones (mauve)
- Intensity is removed
Deep Pink Tones (magenta, fuchsia)
- More “grown-up”
- Higher price point in products
Vivid and Hot Pink Tones (bubble gum)
- Still high energy of red
- Faddish (risky in marketing)
- Trendy (less expensive products)
- Immature look
Purple is a glorious yet complex color, preferred by creative and eccentric types, and is steeped with a rich history of royalty. Purple involves the excitement and sexuality of red and the tranquility of blue. It is something of an enigma as it’s both sensual and spiritual.
Radiant Purple Tones
- New Age philosophies (spirituality)
- Cutting edge (technologies)
Deep Purple Tones
- Perceived value
- High quality
Light purple tones
- Sweet taste
- Sweet scent
Black absorbs all light in the color spectrum. Black is often used as a symbol of menace or evil, but it is also used as an indicator of power. Black is associated with death and mourning in many cultures, and is also associated with unhappiness, sexuality, formality, and sophistication depending on its use. Black is often used in fashion because of its slimming quality. Consider how black is used in language: Black Death, blackout, black cat, black list, black market, black tie, black belt.
White is color at its most complete and pure, the color of perfection. The color meaning of white is purity, innocence, wholeness and completion. It is the color of new beginnings, wiping the slate clean, so to speak. While white isn’t stimulating to the senses, it opens the way for the creation of anything the mind can conceive. White contains an equal balance of all the colors of the spectrum, representing both the positive and negative aspects of all colors. Its basic feature is equality, implying fairness and impartiality, neutrality and independence. White is totally reflective, awakening openness, growth and creativity. You can’t hide behind it as it amplifies everything in its way. The color white is cleanliness personified. This is why it is traditionally worn by western brides, and the reason why doctors wear white jackets.
The colors duke! The colors! With 16 million possible colors in on screen viewing, and billions more in nature, I’ve just scratched the surface here, but it should give you some solid footing when choosing the color for your next design project. Color psychology is crazy, and it’s also very subjective. Certain colors mean different things to different cultures; this is the point of view from western viewers.
These feelings can also change depending on the color combinations used. For example, black and yellow can instill fear, or present a precautionary feeling, while red and yellow combine to cause hunger. I’ll leave the combos alone for now, that’s a blog for another day!
Thanks to Julie Brasher for this information.