The Psychology of Color

The Psychology of Color

One of the most frequent conversations I have with my web and blog design clients is about color. For most people color is a totally subjective topic – they have a color or colors that they really like and a color or colors that they really don’t. The rest of the color spectrum is, for most people, just there on the periphery and not something they pay particular attention to. This like and dislike for certain colors often finds its way into conversations about the design of a client’s website or blog. It’s my job to educate them that regardless of their personal feelings about color there’s much more at stake.

For designers, real designers not those who merely claim the title, the use of color is less about mere aesthetics – though certainly it plays a role – and more about psychology and science. The choice of color in a particular design directly effects the impression a visitor has about your site and the business or services behind it. If you question this at all consider for a moment the colors used in schools and hospitals where one sees mostly light blues and greens because of the specific psychological impact they have creating states of calm, quietude, higher thoughts and peace. Think also of the common colors used in prisons in the US – gray (or colors with a lot of gray overtones) due to its capacity to evoke psychological states of staidness, gloominess, quiet and security.

Many studies have been conducted to determine the psychological impact of color. From these studies certain truths have emerged and it is these truths that I and all good designers use to inform the designs that we create for our clients.

Some of these truths about color are as follows:

The Color Psychology of Black

  • Black absorbs all light in the color spectrum. Black represents a lack of color, the primordial void, emptiness.
  • Black is often used as a symbol of menace or evil, but it is also popular as an indicator of power. It is used to represent treacherous characters such as Dracula and is often associated with witchcraft.
  • Black is associated with death and mourning in many cultures. It is also associated with unhappiness, sexuality, formality, and sophistication.
  • Black is often used in fashion because of its slimming quality.

Consider how black is used in our daily language: Black Death, blackout, black cat, black list, black market, black tie, black belt.

The Color Psychology of Green

  • Green is a cool color that symbolizes nature and the natural world.
  • Green also represents tranquility, good luck, health, and jealousy.
  • Researchers have also found that green can improve reading ability. Some students may find that laying a transparent sheet of green paper over reading material increases reading speed and comprehension.
  • Green has long been a symbol of fertility and was once the preferred color choice for wedding gowns in the 15th-century. Even today, green M & M’s (an American chocolate candy) are said to send a sexual message.
  • Green is often used in decorating for its calming effect. For example, guests waiting to appear on television programs often wait in a “green room” to relax.
  • Green is thought to relieve stress and help heal. Those who have a green work environment experience fewer stomachaches.

Consider how green is used in language: green thumb, green with envy, greenhorn.

The Color Psychology of Orange

  • Orange is a combination of yellow and red and is considered an energetic color.
  • Orange calls to mind feelings of excitement, enthusiasm, and warmth.
  • Orange is often used to draw attention, such as in traffic signs and advertising.

The Color Psychology of Blue

  • Blue is described as a favorite color by many people and is the color most preferred by men.
  • Blue calls to mind feelings of calmness or serenity. It is often described as peaceful, tranquil, secure, and orderly.
  • Blue can also create feelings of sadness or aloofness.
  • Blue is often used to decorate offices because research has shown that people are more productive in blue rooms.
  • Blue is one of the most popular colors, but it is one of the least appetizing. Some weight loss plans even recommend eating your food off of a blue plate. Blue rarely occurs naturally in food aside from blueberries and some plums. Also, humans are geared to avoid foods that are poisonous and blue coloring in food is often a sign of spoilage or poison.
  • Blue can also lower the pulse rate and body temperature.

Consider how blue is used in language: blue moon, blue Monday, blue blood, the blues, and blue ribbon.

This is a long post. I’ll post more tomorrow about the psychology of other colors. The point of all of this is that color as it applies to designing for the web is far more important that the subjective like vs. don’t like. The effective use of color can either help you get your message across to your audience or it can ensure that you won’t.