Color Psychology & Graphic Design

585 396 Derek Kimball

multi colored pencils

Colors evoke certain symbolic and psychological associations that are often overlooked in design. As a graphic designer, I wanted to learn more about colors, their perceived meanings and sub conscience interpretations. While not all colors evoke the same feeling in all parts of the world, the following interpretations are a general representation of color in western culture. I hope you find this information as useful as I did.

Gold:

gold colored mask

Evokes feeling of prestige, power, wealth, wisdom, and high quality.

Brown:

brown colored sand

Masculine, solid, reliable, color of earth and abundance in nature, boring. Men are more likely to favor brown colors over women.

Purple:

woman in sexy color purple

Combines the stability of blue and the energy of red. Terms associated with purple include: royalty, ambition, wealth, sophistication, femininity, creativity, mystery, nobility, magic, independence, and romance. Because purple appears little in nature, it can often appear artificial. Because of this; it’s advisable to not use purple in designs trying to portray a sense of “natural”.

According to surveys, about 75% of pre-adolescent children prefer purple to all other colors. Lighter colored purples tend to evoke romantic and nostalgic feelings while darker purples more commonly convey gloom, sad feelings, and frustration.

Yellow:

yellow color isolated

Joy, happiness, intellect, energy. While considered an optimistic color, when over used; people have the tendency to lose their temper more often in yellow colored rooms, and babies are shown to cry more. Yellow is difficult on the eyes and can be quite overpowering if over used.

Yellow is often considered a childish color (especially by men). It’s great for bringing attention or highlighting aspects of a design; however caution should be used due to it’s strong appearance. In heraldry, the color yellow indicated honor and loyalty, yet later the meaning was connected with cowardice. Yellow suppose to enhance concentration and speed up metabolism.

Dull yellows convey a sense of caution, decay, sickness, or jealousy. Light yellows often represent freshness, joy, or intellect.

Green:

green background

Symbolizes nature, calming, refreshing, growth, harmony, fertility, safety, healing, and freedom. Green is easy on the eyes and non-invasive. Darker hues of green tend to be more masculine and conservative. Dark greens are often linked to the financial world (wall street, wealth, money). Lighter hues of green (aqua, olive) are good for healing or peaceful purposes.

Blue:

color blue brush

A popular color that holds mostly positive connotations: peaceful, calming, tranquility, loyalty, nature (sky, ocean), depth, stability, trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, spiritual, productivity, cleansing, and health. On the flip side, blue can also be representative of cold and depression.

Blue is considered a masculine color, and is more commonly preferred by men over women. It’s a good color to wear to job interviews and a wise choice for promoting high tech products, as it suggests precision and strength. Tests have shown that people in blue colored rooms tend to be more productive. Weight lifters have also been shown to be able to lift greater amounts of weight in blue colored gyms.

It’s advised to not use blue in association with anything food or cooking related, as it suppresses the appetite. Blue, when combined with warm colors like yellow or red, can create high impact and vibrant designs. Blue is often considered to be the safest global color.

Darker blues tend to more represent depth, expertise, stability, power, seriousness, and integrity. Dark blue is commonly used in the corporate world. Lighter hues of blue are often used for anything relating to healing, tranquility, and softness.

Orange:

orange flame car

Combines the energy of red with the happiness of yellow. Orange is representative of joy, sunshine, health, tropics, creativity, success, stimulation, strength, youth, endurance, fall season, harvest, Halloween, and citrus.

Orange gives the sensation of heat, without the aggression of red. When viewed, it’s been known to increase oxygen supply to the brain and stimulate mental activity. It is also a highly accepted color amongst younger people; which is why it’s used so often in marketing towards children. Being such a strong color with high visibility; orange is great for promoting and highlighting certain aspects of your design. And thanks to a commenter (Zenna) for her mention of orange being commonly used in the restaurant and food industry as it is known to stimulate appetite.

Red:

sexy color red

Intense, stimulating, courage, energy, war, blood, danger, strength, power, passion, desire, love, safety, Christmas, sex (red nails, lady in red, red lips). Red is a very noticeable color, which is why it is used for things such as stop lights, stop signs, and fire equipment. This color has been shown to cause an increase in blood pressure and respiration rates. It’s also commonly used in national flags, because of it’s association with courage, power, and strength.

Black:

black colored car

Despite it’s negative connotation (evil, mystery, death, fear, the unknown, black holes, black death, black humor, black list); the color black has positive associations as well, including: elegance, authority, prestige, power, and strength. Black is excellent at making vibrant colors stand out. It’s neutral tone allows it to work well with just about any other colors; a great feature when it comes to designing.

White:

white color dove

Innocence, purity, goodness, cleanliness, perfection, safety, positive, faith, cleanliness, cold, virginity, safety. A wise color choice for use with charitable organizations, hospitals, and anything trying to show safety or purity. Being a neutral color, white goes good with just about any other colors.

Of course there are many more colors and hues I could have covered here, but instead I stuck to the basics. I hope you found this post useful; consider bookmarking it as a reference the next time you are designing. If you have anything to add, please do in the comment form below.

AUTHOR

Derek Kimball

Thanks for reading my blog. I'm a graphic designer who specializes in logo design and brand identity. If you'd like to receive periodic updates to useful design resources and writings, subscribe to the newsletter.

All stories by: Derek Kimball
18 comments
  • DesignBuddy

    Thanks Cha…appreciate it. I was just checking out your website. I’m in the process of adding an email sign up subscription option to my website. Notice you have one in your site’s sidebar. Do you mind my asking if you used a plugin or not? If so, do you remember which one? Thanks man.

  • Zenna

    this was a great read, thanks!

    When i was working for a bank (prior to returning to school for graphic design), we had self study courses that we could take and one of them was about how different colours of clothing affect how your clients see you. Blue was encouraged because it showed trustworthiness and stability. And (apparently) your chances of getting a job increase if you wear blue to the interview. This is probably why blue is popular with financial companies, lawyers, etc (trustworthiness). Also, one thing about orange that was not mentioned, is that it stimulates appetite (which is why a lot of fast food restaurants use it!!).

  • Linda Walton aka bobbysgirlforever

    Excellent post and representation of color psychology! Love the vivid image choices.

    I always find it interesting to read a variety of reviews on what each color represents and how/why to or not to incorporate them into one’s designs!

    Wishing you a bright and shiny New Year!

  • DesignBuddy

    Appreciate the comment Zenna. Thanks for the mentions of “wearing blue to interviews” and “orange being used in restaurants”. I always liked wearing blue to interviews because of the whole trust/loyalty association but never new it could increase my chances of being hired :) I added your mentions to the post, thanks again!

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