Communicating With Colour & Colour Psychology

by | Feb 20, 2022 | Free Resource

Orange with painted blue skin on blue background.

Colour Guru, Leatrice Eiseman said it best “Of all the forms of non-verbal communication, colour is the most instantaneous method of conveying messages and meanings.” 

The human reaction to colour is generally subliminal and many consumers aren’t even aware of the power colours have on their decision making. The fact that colours can cause an emotional or chemical reaction in our bodies is pretty impressive, so when working with colours it’s important to know a bit more about them.

From the time we are born and we first see colour we begin to formulate feelings and connections to them. Some experts believe through evolution, humans have an “ancient wisdom” and an associative memory when it comes to patterns and colours. Before we learnt to appreciate the aesthetic of colours, there were many practical reasons why communicating colour was important, one being survival! Being able to correctly identify flora and fauna by colour could have been the difference between deciding to eat the weird purple berry or knowing not to.

When choosing venue colours, packaging colours and brand colours, knowing how colours work and the effect they may have on your audience is super important. For example, as strange as it sounds, restaurants with dominant blue interiors tend to fail. Unlike red and warmer colours, blues don’t evoke a feeling of hunger, in fact, it can provoke an elimination response in your kidneys — um gross. This is a somewhat extreme example, but understanding colours and colour theory could be a factor in your brand’s success.

Below I’ve explained some terms you may come across when working with colour as well as the psychology and meaning behind a selection of common colours. If you’d like a simplified cheat sheet about basic colour psychology keep reading and sign up at the bottom of the page.

I hope you enjoy this blog, I had a lot of fun putting it together!

COLOUR TERMINOLOGY 

HUE
Hue is basically just another word for colour or shade. We distinguish one hue from another by using common colour names such as violet, red, green, etc.

SATURATION
Saturation refers to the intensity of a colour. The more pale or neutral a colour is the less saturation it has. Vivid and bright colours are high saturation.

VALUE
The value of a colour refers to the lightness or darkness of the colour by determining how close it is to either white or black. For example, forest green emits less light and therefore has a lower value than lime green. 

PRIMARY COLOURS
Primary colours are basic colours that can be mixed together to make other colours. They are usually considered to be red, yellow, blue, and sometimes green depending on what rabbit hole you go down on Google.

SECONDARY COLOURS
A secondary colour is a colour resulting from the mixing of two primary colours. Makes sense right!

Ok now onto the interesting stuff — colour psychology!

Coke can on a red background

RED — ACTION  |  ENERGY  |  POWER  |  PASSION

Red is a very strong colour and can be viewed both positively or negatively depending on how it is used. Clever right?

Red entices excitement and high energy. Viewing red can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and adrenaline. This is why companies often choose red to announce a sale because it creates a sense of urgency. 

The sexiest of the colours, warm red tones are considered high arousal colours — think sexy red lingerie and red convertibles. 

Often used in the branding of fast food companies, red can push people to make quicker decisions and increase hunger as it stimulates appetite.

PINK — YOUTHFUL  |  ENERGETIC  |  EXCITING  |  NURTURING 

Pink has a somewhat complicated gender history. Did you know pink was once thought of as a masculine colour? Pink was seen as a stronger colour than blue, so often boys were dressed in pink. So pink is a great example of how colour meaning can change within society over time.

We’ve all heard of the Pink Tax by now, right? like it or not pink is still heavily associated with femininity so is often used in cosmetics, beauty products, perfumes, or to convey a sweet smell or taste.

The tone of the pink can also effect its results. Intense hot pinks create more urgency, while lighter or dustier pinks are more calming and neutral.

Orange Image

ORANGE — HAPPY  |  PLAYFUL  |  FUN  |  OPTIMISTIC

Bright tones of orange are perceived as a colour that shouldn’t be taken too seriously — youthful, playful, and happy. While lighter shades such as peach, apricot, and coral are very pleasing to the sophisticated eye and appeal to a higher market.

Light tones of orange are perfect for food-related items as they subtly stimulate the appetite and evoke a sense of deliciousness. They also work well in the health and beauty industry. 

Yellow Gameboy on yellow background.

YELLOW — CHEERFUL  |  ENERGETIC  |  WISDOM  |  FUN

Yellow is identified with imagination and enlightenment and is a great colour to use at the point of sale as the eye sees yellow before it notices any other colours. When used in food-related items, creamy yellows can create a feeling of deliciousness — think creams and custards, whereas more intense and greenish yellows are associated with a tart and acidic taste. 

Found in nature, yellow with black is unconsciously linked to our ancient associations of scary and stinging creatures trying to bite us so this combination is often used to say “hey pay attention to me!”. 

Woman holding brown leather bag

BROWN — NATURAL  |  EARTHY  |  WARM  |  STABLE 

More than any other colour, the use of brown and how it is viewed is very dependent on the context. Although brown is usually seen positively, if used incorrectly it can remind people of dirt and grime so it wasn’t all that popular in the fashion industry.

Nowadays brown is way more accepted in homewares, interiors, and the food industry and is often seen as healthy, organic, and wholesome. 

Blue bowl of blueberries.

BLUE — CALMING  |  SOOTHING  |  POSITIVE  |  TRUSTWORTHY 

Humans generally feel soothed when they view blue — think beautiful blue oceans and clear blue skies. However, different tones of blue can conjure different emotions. Certain shades of blue can evoke sadness, evidenced in common phrases such as “feeling blue” or “having the blues”. While darker blues are seen as more serious and powerful so ensuring you pick the right tone of blue is very important. 

Traditionally blue was not often used in food packaging due to the lack of naturally found blue foods and as previously mentioned it can be an appetite suppressant. This has changed over the years and it is now becoming more accepted within the dairy, seafood, and confectionery industry.

Lemon, lime and bitter Bunderburg bottle on lime green background.

GREEN — GROWTH  |  VITALITY  |  DEPENDABLE  |  TRADITIONAL

Probably one of the most versatile colours due to its many different shades, tones, and hues. More vivid greens are viewed as healthy, refreshing, and energetic, and darker tones are often linked to finance or education as they portray tradition, prestige, and security. 

When using green with anything food-related, it’s often best to stick to shades of green that mimic fruits and vegetables. Yellow-greens are a no-go as they are often associated with illness or nausea, however, using these tones for anything gardening or floral related is A-OK. 

Dancer in purple lights.

PURPLE — REGAL  |  SENSUAL  |  SPIRITUAL  |  MYSTERIOUS 

Somewhat of a paradox, purple blends the excitement of red with the serenity of blue. Viewed both as sensual and spiritual, it has a quality that works well for branding that involves a sense of newness or uniqueness. A colour that appeals to creative folk, purple has lost its “old lady lavender” association and is now widely used across all age and gender groups. 

Tone definitely plays a significant role in the feelings evoked by purples — bolder, deeper tones are viewed as more majestic and regal, whereas lighter hues are more delicate and sweet. 

White Apple products on a white background.

WHITE — PURITY  |  SIMPLICITY  |  CLEANLINESS  |  CLARITY 

You may have heard designers harp on about the importance of clear white space. White gives your design a chance to breathe. Think of it this way, if everyone is yelling at you, you’re less likely to be able to absorb or take in any of the information. The human eye sees white as a colour, so it works well in creating contrast and balance. 

I’m sure when you’ve been in the paint aisle at Bunnings you’ve seen how many different tones of white there actually are. Depending on their use, pure whites can look stark and uninviting whereas off-whites are viewed as more friendly. When used in food packaging, creamy whites are often perceived as sweet and delicious, and more vanilla whites suggest pleasant tastes and smells. 

Black bottle of Chanel perfume with ribbon.

BLACK — PROFESSIONAL  |  SOPHISTICATED  |  ELEGANT  |  EXPENSIVE

There’s a reason why black is a classic colour. Used correctly, black conveys sophistication, elegance and class. This is very noticeable in gourmet food packaging and luxury items as people will willingly pay more for what they believe is a “superior” product. Another colour that has had an image boost over the years, black was previously associated with funerals and mourning but is now viewed more positively than not. 

It is however still seen as a somewhat “heavy” colour so you don’t often see this colour getting around on boats and planes but this power colour is essential for conveying power, elegance and strength. 

Cool, there you have it! To download your Colour Psychology Cheat Sheet simply sign up below to receive the download link. If you don’t receive an email just double check your Junk Folder.

Colour Psychology Cheat Sheets

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