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Posted by Mike Woodgate on April 22, 2014

I like to break down graphic design into these 3 components: colour, typography, and shape/layout, and when used effectively they create a design that is unique, impactful and memorable. Over the next 3 editions of the BTI Newsletter, we will be exploring each of these elements thoroughly to reveal how they contribute to the equation. This month we will be exploring the complexity of colour.

Colour Psychology:
Colour psychology is not an exact science, as individuals have their own predisposition towards colours based on their own life experience. That being said, when it’s applied to the general population there are reoccurring themes that are generally true. It is important to understand the general psychology behind colours when deciding what colours to use in your design.

Firstly, there are the colour seasons – blues often relate to winter, oranges to fall, greens to spring and yellows and reds to summer.  Depending on the purpose and timing of your design, it is important to consider what season, if ny, you want to be associated with.

Colour seasons are pretty obvious, but other colour associations, like colour emotions, are much more subtle. In general, people associate certain emotions with different colours, and it is important to understand what emotions these are, so that consumers get the right message about your brand or product. Yellow communicates optimism, orange is friendliness, red is excitement, purple is creative, blue is trustworthy, green is peaceful, and grey is balanced. Of course, there are many other emotional associations to colours, so be sure to do your own research specific to your brand.

There are many different theories of colour emotions, each are slightly different, here are a few examples:

Colour psychology is so important because it gives you the ability to speak to your consumer and tell them all about your brand or product without saying a word. By using colour psychology effectively in the design process, you can ensure that the consumer gets a consistent message about your brand in what you say and how you look.

Colour Recognition:
The value of colour in branding goes far beyond just the meaning behind it. Humans have an innate evolutionary trait which causes us to group colours together and hold significance to them. This helped us to quickly notice the yellow and black spots of a threatening predator in green tall grass, and allows us to notice those famous yellow arches among a clutter of advertising. When we are exposed to the same colours repeatedly, our minds naturally start forming patterns and associating those colours with certain products, brands, or industries. What does that mean for your brand? If you have well planned brand colours, combined with consistent and effective advertising you can reach a stage where consumers will only need to see your colours to know and recognize your brand. Think of Google, Pepsi, McDonalds, Apple, UPS or any major brand. It takes no time for you to imagine their brand colours just by reading their name – try this out: can you recognize these brands?

How about now?

No, we did not just teach you Arabic, however, just by seeing the brand colours for Sprite, Fanta, and Coke, you could recognize their brands and know that they were sold in this store. This ability to engrain yourself in the consumer’s colour recognition ability is a powerful marketing tool.

Check out some of these quizzes to see how much we rely on colour recognition for brand memorability: (Brand Identification Quiz) (Brand Colour Recognition Quiz)

Colour Differentiation:
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you are the first brand in your industry. The brands that have come before you have already engrained certain brand colour associations within consumers. If you are entering the hardware market, you probably don’t want bright orange and white brand colours because Home Depot already has that colour association in the mind of the consumer. Don’t be discouraged though, this presents a great opportunity; research the brand colours of the major brands in your industry, and when you are coming up with your own brand colour or package design pick something completely different. If you walk to the drink aisle of any store it is covered with red, white and blue because of Pepsi, Coke and their knock-off products. So if you are entering that market why not go with bright yellow brand colours to stand out on the shelf, and take over that colour association in the mind of the consumer. This was our technique when we were branding DRICore Subfloor, we knew that purple was an uncommon brand colour in the industry and knew that by making its logo purple that it would stand out in store and be more memorable to consumers.

Colour is an important tool in design, in its ability to convey a message to the consumer, engrain itself in their mind, and differentiate your brand. Don’t take it for granted, as it is an essential part of brand success.

Check out next month’s instalment of BTI Design 101 where we delve into the subtle and intricacies of typography.