Color in Consumerism
Whether you’re picking out a new color to paint your kitchen or designing a logo for your small business, color matters. In a fast-paced world where consumers subconsciously make decisions in the blink of an eye, color is a powerful element that can often make or break the success of a design.
Don’t these designs seem strange? Color is an important building block in any design. Without realizing it, viewers subconsciously analyze and make assumptions about the design based on color and other color-based attributes, like tone, hue, and saturation. Not only do these color rules psychologically feel natural, but color can also alter the way we react physically. Almost all of the content and media we consume compounds these color theory rules as well.
Color Carries Context
Color and light study have been integral aspects of art history. From the Claude Monet color studies in the 1870s to Saul Bass designing logos in the 1960s, color psychology has been a core foundation for how colors are chosen. There have even been books written about how colors affect our minds and bodies. Here are some colors and their typical emotional outcome:
Neuroscience researcher and writer for Neurofied, Clara Vetter, explains: “Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange evoke higher arousal emotions, such as love, passion, happiness, and anger. Cool colors, like blue, green, and purple are linked to calmness, sadness, and indifference. Colors can trigger these arousal states and emotions. Several studies show the impact of the paint color used in offices or living rooms on the mood of people in them.”
But colors can be analyzed on a more individual basis, too. Orange and red are usually used in food packaging and restaurants because it has been shown to increase one’s appetite. Yellow and high saturation warm colors are often associated with speed and mobility. Green and earth tones are reassuring and natural. Purples and blues are calming and comforting. Let’s take a look at how these colors are used in the branding of companies millions of consumers use every day.
It seems fitting that a color that often makes us think of speed is associated with luxury car brands like Ferrari and Porsche. The popular messaging app Snapchat also sports a bright yellow, perhaps matching the typical fast-paced user experience on the app. Fast food restaurants like Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s also use the color yellow in their branding efforts.
Orange is a bit of an outlier color, as it branches across a variety of brands and markets. Almost all of the brands have a few attributes in common; they are typically sporty and exciting — from animation studios like Nickelodeon, to sports brands to gas and transportation brands like Harley-Davidson and Gulf Oil. Most orange brands represent something fun that can match the high-energy consumer lifestyle.
In graphic design history, red has been used to represent power, structure, and unity. Also being the perfect 50% tint between the figure (black) and the ground (white), it is a foolproof color for making a lasting impression. Red is bright, has high contrast, and doesn’t often appear in nature, which makes it a great choice in warning labels, traffic signs, and automobiles. The motion and powerful attributes of red make it a popular choice among media brands like CNN, YouTube, and Netflix. It is also associated with appetite alongside yellow in the restaurant industry.
Since the middle ages, purple has been the color of royalty. Those implications still run into our modern culture. Purple logos are not very common, but they tend to lean into the technology and entertainment sector, with sites like Yahoo and Twitch.
Blue is cool and comforting, so naturally, it is a color for technology and general consumer products. Brands like IBM, Twitter, HP, Intel, Dell, and Skype are just some of the tech companies that proudly wear blue. It is also a great banking, health provider, and automobile color. Studies show that blue hues relay the feelings of structure, consistency, and reliability to the consumers.
It’s easy to think of nature when you think of green. Some also think of the other green stuff — money. This makes green a popular color among lawn and home care industries, along with some banks and money management apps like Upward and Robinhood. Companies that want to leave an eco-friendly impression on their customers also use green in their branding. Lastly, miscellaneous food and drink brands use green as well, like Whole Foods, Sprite, Starbucks, and Subway.
Gray isn’t technically a color, but it is used in branding. It is often associated with a modern aesthetic and luxury user experiences, which makes it successful in car brands like Honda, Mercedes, and Nissan, as well as technology brands like Apple.
Brown logos are not super common, but they often convey feelings of tradition, reliability, or simplicity. Brands like UPS stand out with their iconic brown trucks and uniforms.
Designing With Color
Understanding how color affects your brand can make a huge impact in a highly competitive market. Before you hop into Illustrator and begin making color palettes, try designing in grayscale! Logos should almost always work in black and white. Not only are there times when color isn’t an option, but a successful logo should use the figure (solid color or black) and the ground (white or other, lighter color) to convey the concept to the viewer. Any design that is successful in grayscale should be successful in color as well. This allows the designer to focus on the form and concept of the design without convoluting themselves (or the client) with color decisions.
Don’t choose palettes arbitrarily; be purposeful and strategic with your choice. When building a brand, there are color assistant tools like Adobe’s Kuler color picker to help construct a variety of palette types. Element by element, the design will come together. Just like that accent wall in your living room, the choice of color can make a big difference!