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Communicating with Color

What colors stimulate a person’s appetite? What colors make us feel happy? Many of the reactions to color that a human being experiences are driven by instinct.

Color is a powerful element for enhancing your designs.  It can help shape what a reader or viewer sees, feels and remembers. It adds an additional “dimension” for communicating ideas and conveying meaning.  Research confirms that color has a strong impact on basic learning behaviors.

Color is convenient and inexpensive to use whether you are working with a high or low budget. Yet, many people feel insecure about working with colors. Keep in mind that each one of us has a lifetime of experience which began with baby toys and continues through life in nature, art, the media, clothes and furnishings.

Here are some guidelines and suggestions to aid anyone in the use of color in marketing materials.

Color can be used for a wide variety of objectives:

  • Grabs attention
  • Helps emphasize a word or item
  • Highlights a specific item in a group
  • Identifies specific features of equipment (such a red "ON" switch)
  • Differentiates variable factors in graphs and charts
  • Signals the transition to a new topic or subject
  • Prioritizes information or data (cool to warm)
  • Shows direction (as in road signs)
  • Groups categories of components or ideas
  • Adds impact and clarity to drawings
  • Directs where the eyes go and whether they track vertically or horizontally
  • Reinforces recurring themes
  • Illustrates relationships and patterns
  • Essential for use in maps
  • Makes large collections of data easier to work with
  • Speeds the sorting of information and items
  • Help students recall key information
  • Makes information in manuals easier to find
  • Creates or changes a mood
  • Energizes the physical space

Here are some ways in which colors are used in retail:

  • Red: Creates urgency – often used in discounts and impulse sales
  • Green: Easy, calm – used to relax the audience
  • Blue: Creates trust – used by financial institutions   
  • Navy blue: Cheaper – used in price-sensitive ads
  • Royal blue: Urgency – used with impulse sales
  • Pink: Romantic – used in sales to women and girls
  • Yellow: Grabs attention – used in displays and windows
  • Orange: Energizing – used to push for action
  • Purple: Calm – used in anti-aging products
  • Black: Power – selling luxury and fashion

Here is a useful reference on color:

Red is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is a color found in many national flags.

Red is a very emotional color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure. It has high visibility – that’s why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red.

Red brings text and images to the foreground. Use it as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions; it is a perfect color for ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Click Here’ buttons on Internet banners and websites.

In advertising, red is often used to evoke erotic feelings (red lips, red nails, etc). Red is widely used to indicate danger (traffic lights and signs). This color is also commonly associated with energy, so it’s great for promoting energy drinks, games, cars, items related to sports and high physical activity.

Pink signifies romance, love, and friendship. It denotes feminine qualities.
Dark red is associated with vigor, willpower, rage, anger, leadership, courage, longing, malice, and wrath. Light red represents joy, sexuality, passion, sensitivity, and love.
Reddish-brown is associated with harvest and fall.
Brown suggests stability and denotes masculine qualities.

Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy and sunshine. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.

To the eye, orange is a warm color, so it gives the sensation of heat. Still, orange is not as aggressive as red. Orange increases oxygen supply to the brain, produces an invigorating effect, and stimulates mental activity.

A citrus color, orange is associated with healthy food and stimulates the appetite. Orange is the color of fall and harvest. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of strength and endurance.

Orange has high visibility, so you can use it to catch attention and highlight important elements of your design. Orange is very effective for promoting food products and toys.

Yellow is the color of sunshine. It’s associated with joy, happiness, intellect, and energy.
Yellow produces a warming effect, arouses cheerfulness, stimulates mental activity, and generates energy. Yellow is also frequently associated with food.

Bright yellow is an attention getter, and the reason taxicabs are yellow. When overused, yellow can have a disturbing effect; it is known that babies cry more in yellow rooms. Yellow is seen before other colors when placed against black; this combination is often used to issue a warning. In heraldry, yellow indicates honor and loyalty.

Use yellow to evoke pleasant, cheerful feelings. You can choose yellow to promote children’s products and items related to leisure. Yellow is very effective for attracting attention, so use it to highlight the most important elements of your design.

Men usually perceive yellow as a very lighthearted, ‘childish’ color, so it is not recommended to use yellow when selling prestigious, expensive products to men. It is unlikely that someone will buy a yellow business suit or a yellow Mercedes.

Light yellow tends to disappear into white, so it usually needs a dark color to highlight it.
Light yellow is associated with intellect, freshness, and joy.
Gold evokes the feeling of prestige. The meaning of gold is illumination, wisdom, and wealth. Gold often symbolizes high quality.

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 has great healing power. It is the most restful color for the eye. Green suggests stability and endurance. (Sometimes green denotes lack of experience; for example, a ‘greenhorn’ is a novice.) In heraldry, green indicates growth and hope. Green, as opposed to red, means safety; it is the color of “GO” in road signage.

Use green to indicate safety when advertising drugs and medical products. Green is directly related to nature, so you can use it to promote “green” products. Darker green is commonly associated with money, the financial world, banking, and Wall Street. Olive green is the traditional color of peace.

Blue is the color of the sky and sea. It is 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. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.

Use blue to promote products and services related to cleanliness (water purification filters, cleaning liquids), air and sky (airlines, air conditioners), water and sea (sea voyages, mineral water). Blue is linked to consciousness and intellect. Use blue to suggest precision when promoting high-tech products.

Blue is a masculine color; according to studies, it is highly accepted among males. Dark blue is associated with depth, expertise, and stability; it is a preferred color for corporate America.

Avoid using blue when promoting food and cooking, as blue suppresses the appetite. When used together with warm colors like yellow or red, blue can create high-impact, vibrant designs.

Light blue is associated with health, healing, tranquility, understanding, and softness.
Dark blue represents knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.

Purple combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Purple is associated with royalty. It symbolizes power, nobility, luxury, and ambition. It conveys wealth and extravagance. Purple is associated with wisdom, dignity, independence, creativity, mystery, and magic.

According to surveys, almost 75 percent of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors. Purple is a rare color in nature.  

Light purple is a good choice for a feminine design. You can use bright purple when promoting children’s products. Light purple evokes romantic and nostalgic feelings.

White is associated with light, goodness, innocence, purity, and virginity. It is considered to be the color of perfection.

White means safety and cleanliness. White generally has a positive connotation. White can represent a successful beginning. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.

In advertising, white is associated with coolness and cleanliness because it’s the color of snow. You can use white to suggest simplicity in high-tech products. White is an appropriate color for charitable organizations. White is associated with hospitals, doctors, and sterility, so you can use white to suggest safety when promoting medical products. White is often associated with low calorie, low-fat food, and dairy products.

Black is associated with power, elegance, formality, death, evil, and mystery.

Black is a mysterious color associated with fear and the unknown (black holes). It sometimes has a negative connotation (death). Black denotes strength and authority; it is considered to be a very formal, elegant, and prestigious color (black tie, black Mercedes). In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief.

Black gives the feeling of perspective and depth, but a black background can hinder readability. A black suit or dress can make you look thinner. When designing for a gallery of art or photography, you can use a black or gray 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.

2 thoughts on “Communicating with Color

  1. Never really thought about colors having an effect on my appetite. Interesting read! Maybe I should paint my room in an appetite suppressant color and watch my girth drop…lol

  2. The world would be a much boring place with so many flowers , yes , color can effect our mood , and feeling in its magic way , and i turned to choose wear different color of clothes according to my mood

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