The Science and Psychology of Colour

Posted on August 11, 2017

Colour + Science + Emotion = Impact

The science and psychology of colour is not only something for your designer to think about. Its a consideration that should be taken seriously by organisations across every consumer and brand marketing creative.

The significance of colour in our lives was recently acknowledged by UK paper company GF Smith when they announced 'the world’s favourite colour'. To discover the people’s choice, an online survey was conducted over six months with thousands of participants in over 100 countries. Individuals selected their favourite shade online by hovering over an infinite palette of shades until they found the one that appealed the most to them. Fine arts graduate Annie Marrs had selected the original colour, a shade of teal to match the lush landscapes of Scotland: not quite blue, not quite green, with touches of grey.

When it comes to fine tuning artwork for a particular target audience, whether for an event, marketing, fundraising or branding, it pays to understand the psychology of colour. For instance, what do certain colour shades represent to your audience? Light red can speak of joy, passion, sensitivity, and love. Dark orange can represent deceit and distrust, gold can evoke prestige, and dull yellow can elicit caution and imply decay and sickness. Dark green is associated with ambition, greed, and jealousy. Then there are other questions to consider. What environments will your artwork be distributed in and how does context affect the impact of colour? These choices really matter.

The role colour plays in our lives

Our love affair with colour is not a recent preoccupation. It’s really as old as sight itself. Over the ages, we have explored the effects of colour on the human imagination and psyche. From before Michelangelo to the interior decorators of today, the colour palette has been one of the vessels through which we tell our stories, and project our emotions and personalities. Colour connects us to who we are as human beings.

1. The impact of colour in Iconography (symbol)

The creative marketing industry has been obsessed with the emotional impact of colour for over 200 years, especially with the adoption of iconography.

Colour augments personality and permeates the emotive, subconscious mind, largely bypassing logic. Consider the icon-branded marketing symbols associated with McDonald’s, Shell and Lego. You don’t know why, but you feel strong emotions associated with these brands.

This is intentional. Although we logically know that red (used in those logos) traditionally represents romance or aggression, studies show that red is in fact strongly associated with expertise and self-assurance – a defining reason for the use of this colour by these brands. 

Whether we realise it or not, colour is a secondary language we all speak but don’t necessarily realise we do. In many respects, it speaks louder than words. For instance, the same study shows that when people say ‘I’m feeling blue’, we know they are communicating that they feel gloomy or sad. However, this does not translate in a brand marketing context. When used in brand, blue raises powerful feelings of success, confidence and reliability and this is why it’s important to understand how colour represents different meanings when applied to certain organisations, products or events and the setting these items live in.

2. The impact of colour in environments

A different reaction occurs when colour is applied to environments. Researchers Bellizi and Hite (1992) found that in a simulated retail environment, more positive retail outcomes occurred in blue, not red environments. More purchases, fewer purchase postponements, and a stronger inclination to shop and browse were all found in blue environments.

Suffice it to say, colours have a definitive psychological impact on our emotions, perceptions and decision-making.

A valuable marketing agency not only understands the relationship between creative, design and colour, but also has talented designers that can pull it off. Creative innovators who comprehend the science of colour in a body of work, can harness the power to influence even the most steadfast of minds. We break this theory down with the following equation;


The team at Social Impact Institute understand the art of design and the role it has in creating your unique impact and creative solutions for your organisation. We design with purpose, not in isolation of your strategy. To learn more visit our website or call 1800 822 763

- Jason Carrasco

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