The colour psychology in graphic design is a fundamental aspect you need to know if you want to become a professional graphic designer.
Colour plays a crucial role in graphic design, as does the psychology of how humans perceive colour. Below, we’ll look at how colour and psychology affect the graphic design process and how you can use this knowledge to add depth to your projects.
What is colour psychology?
Colour psychology is the study of how colours determine human emotions and behaviours. We react to colours based on a complex series of interactions between our personal tastes, our family upbringing and our cultural background.
Colour can affect perceptions in subtle ways; for example, it can enhance or detract from the taste of food. The right colours can even increase the effectiveness of pills and placebos; blue is used for calming or sleep-inducing pills, while red or yellow is often used for stimulants.
All brands and companies use colours deliberately in the design of their products, packaging, advertisements and websites. High-level graphic design relies in part on the ability to select colours that work with the company’s brand and mission. The psychology of colour can and should be used to trigger the right consumer responses, and this is part of the graphic designer’s goal.
Good graphic design also anticipates cultural differences in the way colours are perceived. The same colour can mean very different things to different audiences; for example, in most cultures yellow has a bright and cheerful connotation, but in China it can have vulgar or adult connotations. In the US, white symbolises purity and is often used for bridal markings, but white is a colour of mourning in Japan, India, China, Korea and the Middle East. The bottom line is that you have to know your audience and choose well.
Why colour psychology is important
Have you ever noticed how a yellow room tends to make you feel more cheerful or happy, or how a red dress can make you feel a sense of passion, while a red sign can alert you to danger?
The subject of colour psychology can be a bit tricky because colour and feelings can be very subjective. But studies suggest that colour influences emotions in specific ways.
“As a company that manufactures baby products, we want our brand to invoke a sense of comfort and reliability. We believe that colour selection plays an important role in generating these emotions,” says Tali Zipper, vice president of marketing at Baby K’tan LLC. She explains their strategy of choosing cheerful colours that also signify reliability, encouraging customers to feel comfortable when purchasing their products.
Zip goes on to explain that the company found studies suggesting that blue is often associated with credibility and calmness. They decided to change the blue to a more vibrant shade so that customers would also associate their brand with joy.
According to Lauren Ellis, creative director at Masonry, it is also important to recognise that different colours can evoke different emotions depending on the culture. For example, red in Western cultures often signifies danger, passion or anger, while in Eastern cultures it signifies luck or joy. Blue is considered masculine in the United States, but feminine in China.
What does each colour convey?
Each colour is unique, and what it conveys or not will depend on the person and the feelings they have associated with a particular colour. However, in general, colours tend to convey the same sensations to most people.
We will briefly describe what characteristics are related to each of the main colours.
Red, orange and yellow and their tertiary variations are the warm colours. They are generally positive, passionate, cheerful, enthusiastic and energising.
Red (primary colour)
Positive associations: passion, strong emotions, excitement, love, confidence, comfort, warmth.
Negative associations: danger, anger, violence, fire, war.
Common uses in design: bright red as a highlight colour; dark red, in combination with grey and white, for a professional and elegant look.
Learn all the secrets about the colour red in our article on red colour psychology in graphic design.
Positive associations: excitement, energy, health and vitality, friendliness, enthusiasm, beauty, earthiness, change of season, affordability and warmth.
Negative associations: none.
Common design uses: Food and beverage websites often use orange because it stimulates the appetite.
Positive associations: warmth, joy, care, happiness, hope.
Negative associations: anger, frustration, caution/danger, cowardice, deceit.
Common uses in design: Soft yellows for child-related products and services; darker golds and yellows for an antique look and a sense of lasting appeal or permanence.
For all the details about yellow, here’s an article on the psychology of the colour yellow.
Green, blue and purple and their tertiary variations are the cool colours. In general, they are more reserved, relaxed, professional and calm than the warm colours.
Positive associations: nature, growth, health, new beginnings, money, renewal, calm, abundance, tranquillity, fertility, good luck, harmony, balance.
Negative associations: jealousy, envy, greed, inexperience.
Common design uses: designs related to nature, renewal, stability and wealth. Brighter greens are most common for vibrant and energising designs, olive greens are most commonly used to signify the natural world, and darker greens are best for signalling wealth and stability.
For all the details on the colour green, don’t miss our guide to the psychology of green.
Positive associations: authority, calm, conservative (but can also mean liberal political values), masculine, non-threatening, peaceful, refreshing, dependable, responsible, serene, stable, strength, calm.
Negative associations: sadness, depression, aloofness, vulgarity, and adult themes.
Common design uses: Baby blue for baby and toddler products; light blue for calming and relaxing effects; bright blue for a refreshing and energising feel; dark blue for corporate designs and other places where reliability and strength are important.
Purple or purple (secondary)
Positive associations: magical, creative, mysterious, spiritual, imaginative, luxurious, royalty, romance, wealth and military honour.
Negative associations: none.
Common design uses: light purples for pampering, beauty and romance; dark purples for luxury and wealth.
Neutral colours are essential in graphic design because they often function as a backdrop and are expected to produce the right effects in combination with brighter accent colours.
However, neutrals can also speak volumes on their own and convey their own sophisticated meanings and messages.
Positive associations: cleanliness, bride, innocence, virginity, health, purity, goodness and peace.
Negative associations: cold, dull, drab, bland, impersonal, uninspiring and sterile.
Common uses in design: As a backdrop, white allows other colours to shine through; it can also be used to create minimalist designs; white can also convey summer and winter.
Positive associations: magic, Halloween, power, fashion, elegance, mystery, wealth and formality.
Negative associations: death, evil, intimidation, mourning, control, bad luck and occult.
Common uses in design: It is used to convey a sense of nervousness, mystery or elegance. Black is also the default colour of the typeface.
Positive associations: professional, formal, sophisticated.
Negative associations: depressing, dull, grumpy.
Common uses in design: corporate designs, backgrounds and typography.
Brown and beige
Positive associations: earthy, down-to-earth, warm, familiar, reliable, firm, comfortable and safe.
Negative associations: dull, dingy.
Common uses in design:backgrounds, especially for wood and natural-looking stone, and as a substitute for typography or black backgrounds.
Graphic design requires much more than the selection of pleasing colour combinations. Careful consideration of colours to produce specific desired effects is only part of the graphic designer’s job.
This means that a deep understanding of colour psychology and knowing how to use each colour strategically is a fundamental component of successful graphic design.
Do you want to know all the details about the colour psychology in graphic design?
Knowing the psychology of colours is a powerful weapon for anyone involved in the world of design, advertising, marketing, fashion, etc.
If you want to discover everything that is hidden behind each of the colours, don’t miss our articles on colour psychology, in which we show you in depth all the details about colours so you can use them in your designs.