Colour psychology is a troublesome beast. Not only do colours have different effects on different people but they can conjure the complete opposite emotion depending on the culture they’re exposed to. Even within Australia each state reacts differently to a combination of colours – for example most South Australian football supporters will react contrastingly when exposed to teal, black and white compared to blue, red and gold.
One of the reasons we love working in the creative industry is our constant exposure to colour and the effect they have on clients and target audiences alike. Colour plays an important role in visual communication, influencing our mood, judgement and all the decisions we make. Understanding the underlying values a colour can have on your logo, website or marketing collateral might change your thinking when it comes time to rolling out your brand. Here is a brief overview of some basic colours and their meanings, coupled with Argon Design branding examples.
Blue is easily the most requested branding colour we receive here at Argon. Blue is safe, conservative and oozes a professional appearance, which is quite often linked with the corporate world. On top of the reliable and responsible nature of the colour it also endorses peace and tranquility while promoting relaxation. When it comes to colour all-rounders blue come up trumps. But beware, such is the popularity of blue that it (along with red) make up a lion’s share of the colour percentage when it comes to business branding. There is a risk of visual similarities between you and your competitors.
Like with any colour there are also negative connotations. Blue can be seen as depressing or sad, while it’s rigid behaviour can make it appear sterile and stubborn.
Red can be the cause of frustration for many designers as it represents such a diverse range of emotions. It can mean love or danger, action or aggression, confidence or intolerance. You have to be particularly careful when selecting red for your brand to be sure you’re conveying the right message. But if considered properly, red can produce amazing results that catch the eye and show a high energy; that result in a bold branding presence. It’s no surprise that ‘fearless red’ is the colour featured most in the flags around the world.
Similarly to blue, red has been put through the ringer when it comes to trying to draw attention. Installing a sign with big red bold letters ‘calling for action’ no longer evokes a positive response, it instead leaves your business looking cheap without a proper consideration of your branding message.
Green is also surprisingly one of our clients most favourite colours when it comes to business branding. Buoyed by its association with nature, health, freshness and fertility green keeps ‘growing’ in popularity as businesses seek an environmentally friendly persona. On top of these organic qualities green also encourages generosity, kindness and sympathy while creating a sense of calm; which is why it’s often seen in ‘exit signage’.
However green is also regarded as the colour of money and greed in the Western World… but didn’t we just say it also promotes generosity? This is where things get sticky. It all comes down to the different shades. A darker rich green is more materialistic while a lighter lime colour suggests something is new or fresh.
We love yellow here at Argon, so much so it was successfully tabled as our chief secondary colour after reviewing our brand colour palette back in 2013. The reason… it’s the colour of creativity! It’s uplifting, full of warmth, extremely optimistic and promotes mental clarity assisting in making those important top level decisions. Because of it’s light and bright nature yellow is used in signage to raise caution and awareness when contrasted with a darker colour.
Despite it’s positive nature be careful when applying it to your brand. Vast expanses of yellow can amplify the effects of anxiety and restlessness in people who are feeling stressed.
Orange is another of those love/hate relationships designers seemingly have with colour. It’s bright, adventurous and full of life but causes some fairly intense headaches when it comes time to accurately reproducing the colour. Because of the limitations of traditional CMYK printing orange will often come out looking murky; without the onscreen impact from the initial proofs. Despite this, the colour is still vibrant, full of confidence and offers a subtle change-up to the sometimes aggressive, but no less impactful, red.
Because of the aforementioned reproduction issues there can be visual irregularities when rolled out through the entirety of a brand. Orange is also linked with affordability… so there needs to be particular caution not to appear ‘too cheap’.
By now pretty much everybody knows the colour pink has strong feminine qualities. From ‘Pink Ribbon Day’ to ‘Barbie’ organisations have used this colour to entice and inspire the female market in industries such as cosmetics, children’s toys and not-for-profit organisations. The emotional effects of pink are quite different at either end of the lightness spectrum; with pale pink suggesting calm and compassion while hot pink promotes passion, romance and energy.
Don’t get us wrong, the ‘men wearing pink’ revolution is in full swing but, even so, any strong pink branding still runs the risk of alienating any potential male customers.
Ever since the elite of England’s royals made it their own, purple has been linked to power, wealth and extravagance. These traits have very much carried through to today as businesses use it to emphasise the superior quality of their product. Purple is also linked to inventiveness, intuition and the supernatural – a prime example is its use in the Psychic industry… it’s everywhere! Purple does still hold some feminine qualities especially at the lighter end of the scale while darker shades are often used in school and university branding to promote exclusiveness.
With this impression of superiority comes the potential to appear arrogant and pretentious. Get to know your ideal target market so they don’t start to resent your brand once you’ve lathered it in rich velvety purple.
Brown is sturdy, practical and earthy. Yep, you guessed, men love it. It suggests strength while also having a wholesome and organic essence that works perfectly (as a change up to green) when applied to environmentally friendly branding. Lighter shades of brown work brilliantly as a neutral backdrops while dark browns can actually represent elegance and refinement when paired with complimentary lighter colours.
Transversely to pink, brown isn’t a winner amongst female consumers, who typically find it boring, dirty and dull.
In many ways black is the more masculine version of purple – it has an air of luxury, confidence and sophistication with just a hint of mystery. It’s another one of those colours with a somewhat conflicting mix of emotions. It can be related to both authority and rebellion, comfort and sadness, protection and caginess… go figure, right? Black is the go-to neutral colour when marketing products to an edgy and trendy crowd. Large areas of black, without the right visual considerations, can often come across as intimidating and overpowering in the wrong market.
White is a bit of a weird one as it’s pretty much ‘a part’ of every brand whether it’s the ‘colour’ of the paper it’s printed on, the background of the website or an inverted version of the logo. You can’t just have a ‘white brand’… it has to be paired with another colour in some way. Having said that, you can most certainly have brands that are a majority white. These brands promote simplicity, impartiality and cleanliness. A company like ‘Apple’ uses areas of open white space throughout their branding, which helps emphasise the design of their products and to appear efficient and well organised.
Because of it’s emphatic neutral appearance white can appear cold and detached if not formatted correctly with a suitable corresponding colour.