If you’re reading this blog, your eyes are absorbing color. Currently, at the most basic level, they’re seeing black and white, but if you scroll down just a little further (and we recommend you do…try reading while you scroll), your eyes will experience even more colors. In fact, the human eye can comprehend roughly 10 million colors.
Why does this matter?
Color Theory isn’t just for scientists and artists, it’s for marketers too. As humans, we’re designed to see, interpret and respond to millions of different colors—all of which can make us feel or remember different things. So wouldn’t it make sense that certain colors in a brand or a design could trigger similar reactions?
Color Theory: A History
Color Theory originated out of the idea that there are three primary or “primitive” colors—red, yellow and blue. A German poet and government minister, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, crafted the Theory of Colours in 1810, which surmised that these were the primary colors because they were believed capable of mixing all other colors. Goethe continued by uncovering the psychological implications of color and theorized that the human eye doesn’t just view a color, it causes the brain to feel that color.
“Blue: as yellow is always accompanied with light, so it may be said that blue still brings a principle of darkness with it. This color has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue, it is powerful—but it is on the negative side, and in its highest purity is, as it were, a stimulating negation. Its appearance, then, is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.”
– Goethe, Theory of Colours
French industrial chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul backed up those claims with his own published work, The Law of Simultaneous Color Contrast in 1839.
What these two men didn’t know was that they were uncovering a conversation that would be sparked as many times as there are visible colors in the world.
Color Theory Today
As science has advanced, psychologists and neuroscientists have studied the physical and emotional effects of color on the human brain. One neuroscientist, Bevil Conway, studies vision and perception at Wellesley College and Harvard Medical School. A former artist himself, Conway discovered a connection between specific colors and a monkey’s brain. Using a brain scanner, he discovered clusters of specific cells that detect hues. More than that, the primates distinguished further between colors and their brains created denser clusters for certain colors over others (the largest was tuned to red, followed by green, then blue). This discovery led Conway to surmise that humans may also be hardwired for certain hues, which could be the key to understanding the neural properties of emotion.
Color theory represents an opportunity for marketers to instantly connect with a consumer’s decision making process and habits. Specific colors can play on a buyer’s personal experiences, memories and inclinations. They can even be used to create specific emotional reactions, like hunger or an elevated mood.
Colors and Their Emotions
- Can Make Us Feel: Energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination, passion, desire, love
- Can Create: Enhanced metabolism, increased respiration rate, higher blood pressure
- Can Make Us Feel: Joy, energy, happiness, enthusiasm, fascination, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement
- Can Recall: Sunshine, tropics
- Can Make Us Feel: Joy, happiness, intellect, energy, honor, loyalty
- Can Create: A warming effect, cheerfulness, stimulated mental activity, muscle energy (however, babies are known to cry more in yellow rooms)
- Can Make Us Feel: Safe, stable, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, tranquil, calm
- Can Create: Trust, sincerity, slow metabolism, calming effect
- Can Make Us Feel: Serene, confident, peaceful, flexible, imaginative, warm, communicative, compassionate
- Can Create: A need to feel unique and authentic, a trust in intelligence
- Can Make Us Feel: Independence, creativity, mystery, magic, luxury
- Can Create: Ambition, power
- Can Make Us Feel: Safe, pure, clean, successful, good, innocent
- Can Create: Positivity
- Can Make Us Feel: Elegant, formal, negative, strength, authority
- Can Create: Grief
Implement Color Theory into Your Brand
Colors’ effects on human emotions are far reaching and can be broken into countless more categories than what is listed above. However, understanding at a basic level how people can react to certain colors can help you create or reshape your brand in a way to evokes the right emotions with the right people.
Still not convinced? Consider this: when people buy, 93% of them look at visual appearance first, and 84.7% of consumers cite that color is the primary reason they buy a particular product. Research also reveals that people make a subconscious judgement about an environment or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone.
How We Use Color Theory at 434
When we’re charged with creating a brand for a client, we think beyond what will look beautiful. We consider why the audience to this brand will think it’s beautiful. We consider typography that will be easy to consume and read, we evaluate the different mediums by which the brand will be delivered to the audience and, of course, we consider color theory.
For example, we have worked with clients who serve an incredibly broad audience—individuals ranging in age from early 20s to late 60s. Such a diverse spectrum of demographics could easily cause a designer to design for the majority demographic only. However, with color theory, our brains tend to respond to color in similar ways, regardless of age, so it equips us to create a brand that will be all things to all people (which is something like a unicorn to marketers).
That specific client, the one with the diverse age demographic, is also an incredibly public-facing entity, which broadens our audience even more. So, for them, we chose colors in shades of blue, which studies show is a color favorite across men and women. Blue tends to elicit feelings of serenity, safety and creativity. Blue is also shown to help slow the heart rate and breathing, which gives someone the feeling of relaxation and meditation. So, when a person within this client’s demographic recalls the logo, they’re instantly flooded with feelings of happiness and calm.
Whether you’re considering emotions or considering revenue, color theory should be an important factor in your brand and marketing.