Colour theory and psychology marketing and design series

Welcome to the second piece in our Let’s Talk Marketing Design series. This week, we’re talking about one of our favourite subjects: Colour.

It’s an interesting topic that everyone can relate to, and in one way or another, we’re all connected to it. Because the world would be a boring place in black and white, wouldn’t it? Colours create individuality, personality, and differentiation in style. They make things look pretty and they make us choose one t-shirt over another in a clothes shop, or one car over another when we buy our first set of wheels. We all have our favourites, and that’s why colours are so unique. But in design, they are so much more than just aesthetics. Colour selection in design and print can do some very powerful things. From rousing specific emotions in customers or getting someone’s attention from 30 feet away to increasing sales conversion with in-store graphics, colour is something that marketers should never underestimate.

Colours can make your audience see what you want them to see, feel what you want them to feel, and hopefully take the action that you want them to take. It’s all about the power of suggestion. So let’s take a moment to discuss the benefits of suggestive colour application in marketing, advertising, and design and print. 

Colour Theory

Simply put, colour theory is the way we mix and combine colours. From colour theory, we are able to understand the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary colours. As well as the difference between RGB and CMYK; these are the two mixing models (RGB is additive and CMYK is subtractive) that we use depending on whether our project is for online or print. You can find out more about using RBG or CMYK in our related article.

Basic colour theory also teaches us about the colour wheel, a tool we have used for many centuries. It was first designed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, and a good understanding of the wheel will help you find the best colour combinations to make your designs look more attractive. Opposite colours complement one another (eg: blues and oranges, reds and greens, yellows and purples) so referring to the wheel before you select your colour scheme can be very useful when approaching a new piece of design work. 

In addition to mixing and selecting colours, it’s also important to understand colour contrast. It’s something that every art worker should think about, especially when designing copy. The higher the contrast, the more easily your text will get noticed. So choosing the right background colour / text colour could seriously influence the effectiveness of your campaign. With opposing colours, it can be very easy to assume that the combination will automatically create a high contrast ratio. But this is not true. Sometimes, true contrast ratios are not detected by the eye. A quick test is to turn your artwork into grayscale for better contrast perception, or you can use an online checker like

Colour Psychology

Whilst colour theory can help you create visually pleasing and visually effective designs, the psychology of colour is all about creating an emotional connection with your audience. Ultimately, the two should work together for best results. Understanding colour psychology can be difficult as it’s mostly speculative, but getting a grasp of the basics can really help you speak to your audience in the way that you want.

This is how you can tap into the world of suggestive colour and colour meaning. For instance, red is related to excitement, pleasure and urgency. Whilst blue is considered to inspire feelings of trust, dependability and reliability. And green is so often linked with peace, nature and health. Which is why you may find many fast food / restaurant chains or confectionary brands using red in their logo (it’s even believed that the colour red can increase heart rate and make you feel hungry). Or so many educational bodies and medical practices using the colour blue (it makes us feel like we’re in safe hands). Or so many organic food products or charities choosing green as their brand colour.

Colour psychology and the meaning of colour

Through colour, we can also incite certain moods. With yellow being the happiest colour on the spectrum for instance, or blue being the most calming, black being strong and empowering, and pink being romantic and feminine. If you learn to execute colour well, you will ultimately be able to build an emotional connection between the customer and your brand.

Colour really allows us to find beautiful, subtle and effective ways of communicating brand messages. However, it’s important to remember that this is not an exact science. There are many other factors to bear in mind when it comes to colour and the human brain. Colour preferences by gender can vary and other things will can impact too; such as personal preference, cultural differences, upbringing or personal experiences.

So the best advice?

Apply colour psychology carefully and always think about the context of your campaign. Because relevance is key when it comes to design. But no matter what your project, however big or small, never forget the importance of putting a bit of extra thought into your colour choices. They will make a big difference to your finished advert, signage, banner or store display. Here's a Youtube article which might help to get you started. 

Don’t miss the next post in our Let’s Talk Marketing Design series: ‘Does Your Choice of Font Really Matter?’

To find out how we can help you with design, please get in touch

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