Color psychology fundamentals for designers (with real-life examples)
Let’s take a look at some color theory 101, as well as some famous examples of the uses of color for
If you’re in design, chances are you’re already familiar with colors and how to use them.
We know on some level that Red is passionate and angry; Blue is calming and cool, while Orange is fun, youthful, uplifting. But why is orange fun?
“It just is!” — is, unfortunately, not a good enough answer. Every designer in the world should be acquainted with colors and their meanings, as they form the basis of our work.
Colors always mean something, and we can’t overlook it if we still want to be good at our jobs.
Color in nature.
Our first instinct when working with color is to rely on the use cases of color found in the nature.
And it might actually be really helpful.
For instance, Red is nature’s most natural stop sign. When a man next to you gets all red, you know it’s getting dangerous. Red is also the color of blood, which you’re only supposed to see when some body damage has been done.
But for humans, intense colors served not only as warning labels, but also as colors of attraction. A bright-red fruit means that it’s ripe, and there are few things as satisfying as seeing a blood-red watermelon insides.
Being able to distinguish between the different color values was fundamental to our survival all those millions of years ago, and it is still hugely important for our world.
There is a world of difference between the red of a Ferrari and the red of the nearby solar energy.
But of course, color meaning doesn’t start and end with “nature”. This would be a silly argument to make.
While we should account for the “natural” color occurrences when we’re designing anything, we should always take a very careful stock of the cultural connotations of colors.
Color in culture.
Did you know that blue wasn’t always a boys’ color? It’s true. For centuries, blue was the perfect “feminine” color, and pink, conversely, was perfectly manly.
If that tells us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a “universal” meaning behind a color. Not within the humanity at large, nor within any one society over a long period of time.
Take an ocean as an example. In English, you’d say that the ocean is blue. There is no two ways about it, the ocean has to be blue.
But is it all the same blue?
As you’ll be readily informed by any English undergrad, Homer (and maybe Ancient Greeks at large) didn’t know any “blue”. Their language didn’t have the term for “blue”, and so instead they called the ocean “wine-dark”.
Honey wasn’t described as yellow, but as a hue of green, and sheep were considered to be a kind of violet.
It may seem bonkers to you, but the way we perceive and think about colors is largely dependent on our own language background. I know from personal experience, being bilingual, that in Russian we also don’t have a single “blue” like the English speakers.
Instead, we have goluboy and siniy, more or less approximating the “light blue” and “dark blue” of the English. All of this to say: in other languages, even the sky isn’t necessarily blue.
Examples of color psychology in company logos.
You know how plant-based products are always marketed as “green”? It seems as obvious as the packaging of cleaning products into white and blue. It’s the simplest color psychology: what brands what is to tap into our deepest emotions via the coloring of their products.
Luckily, it’s a trick that’s available to any designer, regardless of their experience or toolset.
Let’s look at some logo examples and analyze their color schemes, and how these schemes help convey what the company is all about.
#1. Chinese restaurant Reborn.
They didn’t skimp on the red, and for good reason. Red is an extremely popular color in China (and not just because of the communists), so it’s appropriate traditionally.
It would be odd of a Chinese restaurant to brandish a lot of greens or blues. More generally, red signifies confidence and energy, plus, it’s noticeable among other brand logos.
Add to that the natural connotations of reed tomatoes/cherries/apples being the ripest, and you have a logo that capitalizes on both the natural, cultural, and general implications of color, and uses them appropriately for the type of business in question.
#2. Orange soda drink Fanta.
Known and recognized the world over, Fanta’s logo has gone through many changes, but their color scheme remains: a lot of orange, bold blue lettering, and a green leaf.
Since orange is absolutely dominating here, we immediately get that this product is about being fun, young, and creative — heavy orange is not a color for old people, after all.
Orange is also a bubbly color, and, of course, it literally means “orange” (the word for the color orange in English comes from the citrus, not the other way around, by the way).
All in all, there’s some stark contrast here between orange and blue, which makes the logo more noticeable, and the tone is clear: fun, youth-oriented, orange-based drink.
#3. Social network Facebook.
I’ll just assume we’ve all seen this at some point in our lives. It’s the simples design possible.
The strong blue is supposed to signify calm, authority, and trust. It’s not trying to attack you or pressure you as a “warm” color like yellow or red might have.
Instead, it’s an agreeable, laid-back blue and white. In terms of social network created for communication, you want to signal that you are:
- Transparent and honest — this is why white is so important.
- A place for relaxation and cooling off — this is why it needs to be blue.
Simply put, if you’re designing a logo for a platform where people are supposed to connect with family and friends, as well as spend thousands of hours transfering private information, the white and blue is the best choice.
This goes for a social networks and hospitals alike, by the way.
Understanding colors is necessary for a designer, simple as that.
If we don’t spend time learning color theory and psychology, as well as studying the most successful uses of color in modern business, then we’ll never be able to adequately represent our clients and products.
Hope this article was helpful to the readers, and you’ll be able to dive into color theory more profoundly from now on.
Senior UI/UX designer at Awario.com