Colour theory is a complex topic. There are several psychological studies, countless infographics, and numerous articles all over the internet on colour. Yet at the same time, many consider colour theory doubtful and murky. This is because there are various misconceptions about colour and our perceptions of it. It’s difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction with this topic.
We could go into all the practices and theory that contributes to all this doubt but at the end of the day, as a business owner, what you really want to know is which one of them is truly best for your brand. We’re going to give a basic overview of what customers and consumers tend to understand through the colours your business puts out there for them to consume.
You might argue that you care more about your business’s core operations and services rather than something as simple as colour – rightly so – but this is a cop-out most businesses cannot afford to take. If you choose to keep your business ‘brandless’ – with no image other than your goods or services – not only would this be extremely difficult in this day and age, but it would still be a brand. That means ‘brandlessness’ would become your brand! You would become ‘that brand that has no branding’ and that kind of brand is exceptionally risky for your business to have because you simply have no control over how your business is perceived by your customers and your employees.
Let’s put the control in your hands now. We’ll use some tried and tested brand standards, some large successful brands as examples and some simple design principles to explain what a simple element like colour can communicate about your business to the public.
We’ll start by saying that there are no concrete answers when it comes to the meaning of colours. Research shows that it’s likely because of personal preference, experiences, upbringing, cultural differences, and context that the effect individual colours have on us tend to differ. So the idea that colours are able to evoke a specific emotion in every individual is how colour theory ends up being compared to palm reading.
However, there is still a lot of valuable information to take into account when choosing colours even though concrete answers are not a guarantee. The key is to look for practical ways to make effective decisions about your business colours. The key question you should be asking yourself as you search for the correct colour for your business is:
Studies have revealed that our brains prefer immediately recognisable brands, which makes colour an important element when creating a brand identity. However, we need to keep it in consideration that broad statements such as “red means anger” are generally too broad, they are there to give guidance rather than definitive answers. While red may be useful for an aggressive approach, it can also be used to communicate other messages in other contexts. Red can signify bold creativity, for example. So as we give the broad signified meaning behind every colour, keep the identity and services of your business at the forefront of your mind.
Blue – One of the most popular brand colours. This is because it is associated with professionalism while also being a bright and tranquil colour. Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect. Blue is strongly associated with tranquility and calmness. As opposed to emotionally warm colors like red, orange, and yellow; blue is linked to consciousness and intellect. Use blue to suggest precision when promoting high-tech products.
Brands that use it: Facebook, Gap, Nivea.
Red – the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has very high visibility, which is why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red. It is a color found in many national flags. Red brings text and imagery to the foreground. It is a perfect color for ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons on Internet banners and websites as it is very provocative. In advertising, red is often used to evoke erotic feelings but also to indicate danger. It is a notoriously difficult colour to own in any sector, especially in its primary form. It’s the colour of anger and danger, but also warmth and passion. And since it’s also scientifically proven to increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure, it’s a bold choice to use it extensively.
Brands that use it: Coca-Cola, Vodacom, Virgin.
Orange – This colour combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation. To the human eye, orange is a very hot color, so it gives the sensation of heat. However, orange is not as aggressive as red. Young people, in particular, are partial to this colour. As a citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates appetite. Orange has very high visibility, so you can use it to catch attention and highlight the most important elements of designs. Orange is very effective for promoting food products and toys.
Brands that use it: Fanta, Shell, Stihl.
Yellow – the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy. It is a powerful colour, generally associated with high energy and attention-grabbing. Yellow is very effective for attracting attention, so it can be used to highlight the most important elements of your design. It is a bright colour, so it can be overwhelming if not used in moderation. Often combined with black, yellow is seen before other colors when placed against black; this combination is often used to issue a warning. Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates muscle energy. Yellow is often associated with food. When overused, yellow may have a disturbing effect; it is said that babies cry more in yellow rooms. You can use yellow to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings. Yellow is an unstable and spontaneous color, so avoid using yellow if you want to suggest stability and safety.
Brands that use it: McDonald’s, MTN, Yellow Pages.
Green – earthy, easy, calm. Green is the color of nature. It symbolizes growth, harmony, freshness, and fertility. Green has strong emotional correspondence with safety. Dark green is also commonly associated with money. Green suggests stability and endurance. Green is directly related to nature, so you can use it to promote ‘green’ products or if your business is environmentally conscious, this could be an easy way of communicating that. Dull, darker green is commonly associated with money, the financial world, banking, and investment.
Brands that use it: Milo, Heineken, Nedbank.
White – It is often associated with cleanliness, newness, freshness, and simplicity. This idea has particularly been trendy in website design recently. Bright, powerful graphics are often used on plain white backgrounds in order to make them stand out. White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection. As opposed to black, white usually has a positive association. White can represent a successful beginning. In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness. You can use white to suggest simplicity in high-tech products. White is an appropriate color for charitable organizations; angels are usually imagined wearing white clothes. White is associated with hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you can use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products.
Brands that use it (predominantly): Loreal, Nike, Ogilvy and Mather.
Black – associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery. Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown. It usually has a negative connotation (blacklist, black humor, black death). Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color (black tie, black Mercedes). When designing for a gallery of art or photography, you can use a black or grey background to make the other colors stand out. Black contrasts well with bright colors. Combined with red or orange – other very powerful colors – black gives a very aggressive color scheme.
Brands that use it (predominantly): Adidas, Puma, Chanel.
The bottom line: There are no clear-cut guidelines for choosing your brand’s colours. “It depends” is a frustrating answer, but it’s the truth. However, the context you’re working within is an essential consideration. It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand or product creates that matters.
The key is to apply what works for you and your business identity – in the best way possible- customers want to see who you are and you and what your business stands for – you just need to make sure your colours show this. It’s far more important for colours to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical colour associations.