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The Power of Colour in Design

March 15, 2019 - Zak Averre

When asked why you’re drawn to a particular brand or product, you’ll probably list everything from reputation to nostalgia to a basic need. However, one factor that is often overlooked is colour.
Human beings are visual creatures and our eyes are often the first thing we engage the world with.

Marketers have long tried to tie down colours and make design a paint by numbers experience. This is not the case as the psychology of colour is as varied as the subject itself. In this blog, we’ll look at actual evidence behind colour research to see what, why and how colour choice can be defined.

What is colour psychology?

Colour psychology is dedicated to understanding spending habits and as such have discovered colours are closely associated with buying decisions. According to studies, up to 90% of impulse buys are based solely on colour.

Amazon Call to Action

Along with this, A/B testing has proven that certain coloured buttons perform better than others. In certain cultures, colours can take on signify other meanings such as wealth, mourning, health and the sacred.

One example is the colour yellow. Yellow can come across as playful and bright in western cultures yet in Germany in means envy. In China, yellow can have vulgar connotations, in other Asian countries it signifies imperial worth and in Japan, specifically, it is the colour of courage. Just this tiny cross-section of colour psychology shows how vast and complicated our relationship with colour can be.

What is the Isolation Effect?

So if colours mean different things to different people, what’s the point in worrying about choosing the right colour for your branding? Well, even with varying interpretations of colour there are still a few general rules.

The Isolation Effect is one standard for all design. The isolation effect works by making one particular element stand out to make it memorable. Studies have shown isolation makes recall and recognition easier. To achieve this, brands look at their colour scheme and introduce a complementary colour to make a button or image pop.

For example, a website that uses a green and white palette will find a button or CTA more effective in something bold like red or orange. This classic example has been tested time and time again with Performable’s site test finding the red button is 21% more effective at driving conversion.

Choosing your colour scheme

McDonalds Colour Scheme

Meeting expectations is another, if more difficult, skill to learn. Consumers’ tastes don’t just occur in a vacuum. They are influenced by the world around them and this should influence your colour choices. For example, we’re used to bright primary colours like red and yellow for fast food restaurants like McDonald’s. Now imagine a Michelin Star restaurant adopting the same colour scheme. It doesn’t work, does it? This is why ascribing colours to traits and emotions is so hard. It depends on geography, lived experience and a constant barrage of advertising. The best thing to do is to use your best judgement. There is no quick fix or infographic that you can use to find the ideal colour. It comes down to research, insight and understanding your own identity.

Michelin Star Restaurant

The positives (and negatives) of colour

The negative, as well as the positive connotations, are important in deciding a colour scheme. This may sound counterintuitive but consider a sports team logo. A competitive named after an aggressive animal like the ‘Raptors’ or the ‘Rams’ feed on aggression and need a colour to represent this. This is where dark reds, blacks and other darker toned colours come to the fore. Understanding the effect of your colour choice requires understanding the interplay of negative and positive connotations and balancing these to put your brand forward in the best light.

Last but not least is the ability to fool your own brain with some clever wording. A study in the way we name colours discovered that when people were offered two products with the same colours, such as cosmetics or paint, would result in subjects choosing the more unique name. So instead of ‘dark green’, people prefer ‘forest green’. Instead of ‘yellow’, ‘lemon pie’. Instead of ‘brown’, the much richer and elegant ‘mocha’.

This simple trick relates to colour psychology and is useful to keep in mind when developing your company’s branding. Farrow and Ball have built an entire brand around this technique. Their high-end paints can be found in the homes of the rich and famous with their patented colours going for much more than other brands. This is in no small part due to their ability to come up with inventive names like “Elephant’s Breath” and  “Vert de Terre”.

Farrow and Ball

Developing a colour scheme

Developing a colour scheme requires an understanding of your brand’s identity and a keen eye for design. While designing your own site or branding may seem like a fun task it can be time-consuming, difficult and ultimately catastrophic if done incorrectly. Trusting professional designers, developers and writers is the only way to ensure you strike the right chord.

At Fifteen, we have years of experience doing exactly that. Whether building a brand from the ground up or breathing life into a tired design, our team of marketing masters are on hand to help you realise the full potential of colour and design. Contact us today to find out more.
If you would like to continue reading on colour psychology in design, why not read more on how colour influences our decisions.

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