The Importance of Colour in Graphic Design

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colour in graphic design

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Colour in Graphic Design

Colour is a universal language and a powerful communication tool. Of all the elements that make up a visual design, colour is perhaps the most vital and influential. Research conducted by psychologists and marketers have highlighted how colour can influence our emotions and perceptions. Colour schemes are often used to place emphasis on particular aspects of a design or to evoke a desired mood or emotion in the viewer. Designers use colour selectively to create harmony, balance, and consistency.

It’s clear that colour is a crucial feature to consider when designing marketing assets or building a brand. This blog is about colour psychology, and how insights gained from colour psychology can help identify the most effective colour schemes for designing your branding and marketing collateral. Graphic designers and marketers should always be conscious of the subtle but significant influence colour plays in how viewers will perceive and feel about a marketing message or brand. What colours should you choose for your designs? How can colour influence moods and perceptions? How can you use this knowledge to create more effective and compelling designs that connect with your target audience?

Colour, Psychology and Emotion

Colour psychology is the study of how colours affect behaviours and perceptions. It’s important to be aware that colour associations are often influenced by personal experience and cultural factors and it is too simplistic to assume that colour associations are universal. Nevertheless, research has found consistent associations. ‘Warm colours’ like red, orange and yellow excite and arouse, while ‘cool colours’ like blue and green have a relaxing and calming effect. A survey conducted on colour and word association found that 43% of people associated blue with reliability and 76% associated red with speed. [Source: J.Hallock, ‘Color Associations’]  Another study found that colours can have a strong impact on determining consumer behaviour. Red signs in window displays in stores attracted more impulse purchases. Colours can be used to increase or decrease our appetite, raise or reduce our heart rate, and enhance our mood or calm us down. [Source – ‘Impact of Color on Marketing’, S.Singh] 

When it comes to designing marketing assets, a carefully selected colour scheme can stir viewers emotions and can subconsciously influence how they feel about the brand and the message. As a guide, colour directs the eye and helps to emphasise what is important. Designers and marketers are increasingly seeing the importance of the impact of colour in forming consumer perceptions. [Source: L. Labrecque, ‘Exciting Red and Competent Blue: The importance of color in marketing,’] 

Colour in Marketing and Branding

There are many academic studies and surveys that give weight to the idea that people strongly associate colours and emotions. Let’s take a look at some common colours used in marketing and summarise some of the key findings.

Red

Red is one of the most highly visible colours on the spectrum. It is a warm colour, strongly associated with excitement, action, danger and passion. Red increases heart rate and blood pressure and creates a sense of urgency. It is widely used on warning signs and stop signs as it quickly captures attention and prompts action. In marketing, brands like Red Bull and Ferrari use red in a similar way, to attract attention, and to convey a sense of energy and excitement.

Yellow

Yellow is also a warm colour and is associated with optimism and youthfulness. Fun, smiley faces and sunshine. Yellow is often used on children’s toys and to advertise children’s products. Its brightness sparks enthusiasm and is widely used in promoting special offers to catch customers eyes. It is also associated with mental clarity and logical thinking. Bright, energetic, and eye-catching, yellow is more effective when used sparingly, or with a darker tone for balance.

Blue

Blue is a cool colour and has a more calming and relaxing effect compared to warmer colours like red and yellow. It is strongly associated with maturity, integrity, and trustworthiness. It is no coincidence that so many large organisations choose blue in their branding. IBM, Facebook, Twitter, Samsung, Intel, Ford, RBS. Blue is soothing and reassuring. It creates a sense of security and conveys honesty, professionalism, and reliability.

Orange

Orange is a warm, confident and cheerful colour. It sits between red and yellow on the colour spectrum and combines the excitement of red with the brightness and cheerfulness of yellow. Fun, friendly and uplifting, orange is a popular colour in sports, and is often used by brands targeted at young people. Fanta soft drink, Nickelodeon Television and Mozilla use orange in their branding to share their sense of enthusiasm and energy with their audience.

Green

Green is a cool colour, and, like blue, has a calming effect. Green is the dominant colour in nature, and is closely associated with the environment, growth, freshness and good health. Green is commonly used to highlight environmental issues, and to promote health and fitness products. BP, the oil and gas company, use green in their branding to highlight that they take their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Starbucks, Subways and other food companies use green to emphasise the fresh ingredients they use to make their products.

Black

Black isn’t a warm colour, or a cool colour. Technically, it isn’t a colour at all. Black is neutral and stable and is often used in marketing for its clarity and ability to provide a high contrast effect, in combination with a more vibrant colour that might otherwise be overpowering. Black is used often as a background to enhance legibility. In branding, black is associated with quality, sophistication, and elegance. Think black tie events. Luxury brands like Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton use black in their branding to align with these qualities.  

The above summary of colours gives you a brief overview of some of the kinds of associations and emotional responses that colours can evoke in a customer. When carefully used, designers can apply their understanding of these emotional associations to develop more effective designs. When you also consider other aspects of colour theory, like the effects of colour harmony, complementary colours, and tints and shades, you can begin to appreciate the tools available and why colour is such an important element in any design or visual communication. Colour plays a central role in how we evaluate what we see.  

Colour and the Customer

Whether developing a brand from scratch, or designing marketing collateral for an existing brand, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of colour. 80% of consumers believe colour increases brand recognition, and 84.7% cite colour as the primary reason they buy a particular product. [Source – https://www.webfx.com/blog/web-design/psychology-of-color-infographic/]. Carefully selected brand colours help create the right impression and differentiate a brand from its competitors.

It’s important to be aware that colour associations are not universal. Colour associations can be culturally specific. In the UK, Europe and North America, for example, the colour orange is generally associated with enthusiasm and fun. However, in China orange symbolises love, health and humility. Gender also plays a role in colour associations. In a study on colour preferences, 57% of men said blue was their favourite colour, but only 35% of women shared this preference. The study also showed a much stronger preference for the colour purple among women than men. [Source: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/true-colors1.pdf]. Men generally prefer cool colours, while women favour warm colours. [source – https://www.nickkolenda.com/color-psychology/

Are Your Colours Appropriate For Your Brand?

Colours don’t influence customers in isolation. Context is important. The key questions to ask when brainstorming colour schemes – Are these colours an appropriate fit for your brand or your message? Will these colours evoke the right moods and emotions that I want my customers to associate with my brand? Your brand colours should be perceived as appropriate for the message you are broadcasting. Colours amplify your marketing message. To make the most of colour psychology in your marketing, it helps to have a clear understanding of your brand values and personality. Is your brand youthful or mature? Sophisticated? Energetic? Who is your typical customer and what audience segment are you targeting? Understanding these things will offer invaluable information that will help you in creating messaging and marketing collateral that hits the right tone with your audience.

As you can see, colour is a crucial element of a successful design and can have a powerful effect on how people feel and process information. Colour can be used to associate your brand or message with moods and emotions, and can be employed to capture attention, prompt action, and increase a desired response. Colour affects the perceptions of the viewer in subtle ways. If you know your audience and know what kind of emotional response you want to get across, insights from the psychology of colour can be a highly effective tool in marketing. For the best results, your colour scheme should be visually pleasing and should complement and reinforce the message you want to promote.

Next Step

What colours are right for your marketing? At Gold Rabbit, colour is a really important element of what we do. We bring our knowledge of colour theory and psychology in design to all our design projects, whether it is a simple flyer design or a hundred page product catalogue.

Are you looking to work with graphic designers to create effective and eye-catching marketing assets appropriate for your business?  

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