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Technical Tuesday July 2016 – The Psychology of Color

     -     Jul 19th, 2016   -     Creative Design   -     0 Comments

Be forewarned that the following post is longer than our usual FlashPoint blog. However, is well worth the read.

The skill of using colors is no less than an art form. Throughout human history, master painters and other artists have earned global recognition for their ability to manipulate colors on canvases. In today’s modern era, the art has expanded beyond canvases to print and digital mediums which applies to and is relevant for usage in business applications – first in advertising, and now in web and digital designs. With an almost bottomless depth, the skill of color usage can be improved and refined endlessly.

Today we’ll examine the emotional effects and implications of certain colors.

The Emotional Implications of Color
There’s no denying the link between emotions and colors: in fact, the human race has been documenting the psychological impact of color since the Middle Ages. Naturally, any web designer wants to harness this as well, since the right colors create the right moods and atmosphere for your site.

Please note that different cultures around the world perceive colors differently. We describe emotional associations that are most relevant to Western cultures.


Red: Promotes power, importance, youth

The most stimulating color – red – is so energizing it has been used to increase blood circulation. Representing passion and power, red is the color that will attract the most attention, which is why it is commonly used for warnings and important notices.

As an example, red is very appropriate for the No Way NSA website, whose purpose is calling alarm to a perceived threat from the NSA. Using red in the first section of the single-page site is especially clever because it calls attention to the primary message while physiologically inducing people to “get out of the danger zone” by scrolling downwards. This, of course, only makes the user engage with more content.

Be warned however, this could work against you, as red can incite anger, or at least over-stimulation. If you’re going for a more relaxed atmosphere, use red sparingly or not at all.



Orange: Promotes friendliness, energy, uniqueness

As the most muted of the warm colors, orange is uniquely versatile. As a primary color it can be engaging and energizing, and as a secondary color it also retains these properties in an unobtrusive way. Orange also helps to create a sensation of movement and energy.

As an example, aside from it being part of the brand style, orange works well with Fantas  lighthearted and cartoonish site. The color shows creativity while retaining familiarity.


Yellow: Promotes happiness, enthusiasm, antiquity (darker shades)

Yellow is one of the more versatile colors, depending on the shade. A bright yellow is the most energetic of the colors, without the severity of red. Middle shades of yellow give a sense of comfort while still feeling invigorating. Darker shades (including gold) can give the impression of antiquity, and lend an air of timelessness, wisdom, and curiosity.

In the example here, the darker shade of yellow exudes energy, curiosity and authority. This makes a lot of sense for a company who thrives on the value of their texting product.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.23.28 AM


Green: Promotes growth, stability, financial themes, environmental themes

Green bridges the gap between warm and cool colors, though tends to be more of a cool color. This means green has the same relaxing effects of blue, but still retains some of the energizing qualities of yellow. As such, it creates a very balanced and stable atmosphere. Darker shades give off more of the money/affluence feelings which you can see with the Ameritrade example shown here.



Blue: Promotes calm, safety, openness (lighter shades), reliability (darker shades)

Like yellow, blue’s meaning varies greatly depending on the shade. All blues are universally relaxing and safe, but the lighter shades will seem more friendly while the darker ones seem more somber. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook take advantage of light and medium shades, while corporate websites prefer dark shades and tones which convey strength and reliability.

The example here which is from an event planning agency, makes clever use of dark blue. By using the blue in the flowers in the background, they visually hint at their expertise in floral design while also exuding trust and reliability. It makes a lot of sense since they plan high visibility and nerve-wracking events like weddings.



Purple: Promotes luxury, romance (lighter shades), mystery (darker shades)

Historically associated with royalty, purple retains the tone of luxury, even to the point of decadence.

Purples suggests lavishness and wealth in general, making it a popular choice for fashion and luxury goods (and even chocolate, like the Cadbury example). Lighter shades like lavender (with pink hues) are considered romantic, while darker shades seem more luxurious and mysterious.



Black: Promotes power, edginess, sophistication

The strongest of the neutral colors, black exists on almost every website.

It can take on varying characteristics depending on its supporting colors, or dominate all of them if used in excess. Its strength amidst neutrality makes it the color of choice for long blocks of text, but as a primary color, it can give the impression of edginess, sophistication, or even evil.

For most websites, black is used to create an instant feeling of sophistication and timelessness. The feeling of elegance is especially strong well when paired with white font and set against a minimalist layout, as you can see in the “Dream and Reach” microsite from Bose.



White: Promotes cleanliness, virtue, simplicity

White is the color most associated with virtue, purity, and innocence in Western cultures.

Minimalist and simplistic sites most often use it as a background. By drawing the least attention of all the colors, white is the best for accenting the other colors on the page.

In the above example, this works particularly well for the artist Kaloian Toshev’s website. The white background draws attention to his vibrant artwork, while creating an art-gallery aura of elegance.

white copy


Gray: Promotes neutrality, formality, melancholy

While in certain situations it can seem brooding or sad, gray is nonetheless a popular choice for looking traditional or professional. However, one of the greatest advantages of gray lies in varying its hues — changing the shade can give you a customized mix of properties from white and black which is a powerful tool in skillful hands.

When paired with brighter colors and presented in a flat user interface, the grey background of AWWWARDS feels much more modern than it does somber.



Beige: Promotes traits of surrounding colors

Beige is the wildcard of the colors, as its main use is in drawing out other colors.

On its own, beige is dull, though this can be used to symbolize humility. However, it will take on the characteristics of the colors around it, making it an interesting design tool. For these reasons, beige is almost always a secondary or background color.

Darker shades of beige (like on the Dishoom site) will create an earthy and almost paper-like texture, while lighter shades feel fresher. In this case, the lighter shade around the brand name, which darkens outwards, help create the feeling that the restaurant is a fresh modern take on earthy cuisine.



Ivory: Promotes comfort, elegance, simplicity

In terms of emotional response, ivory (and cream) are slight variations on white.

Ivory is seen as warmer (or less sterile) than white, making it more comforting while still exuding the same minimalistic and complementary aspects. Ivory should be used in place of white to soften the contrast between it and darker colors. For the above art in my coffee site, an orange/brown accent is added to the cream background (which looks slightly greyish) to create a sense of warmth.



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The takeaway is that no one has to be a Michelangelo, when designing or creating, but a basic understanding of color usage is a solid prerequisite for better looking marketing materials. Obviously colors carry with them a lot of extra weight that sometimes goes unnoticed. No matter what colors you choose when creating, they have a definite influence on the design as a whole — from communicating contrast or similarity, to evoking precise emotions. If you are designing and need assistance with colors or layouts, FlashPoint Marketing can help. Contact us today.

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