Ever notice that certain colors spark certain associations or feelings, but couldn’t put your finger on why?
That’s because there is more than meets the eye when it comes to color triggers. For millennia, our brains have created color associations through patterns in nature, cultural context, or even personal experiences. Some color triggers are even ingrained in our biology for the purpose of survival. Notice how you’re instantly able to spot the ripe fruit on a tree – or at a supermarket.
They help our brains organize and make sense of information in the world around us. Color gets processed in multiple areas of the brain, which helps our brains create meaning more easily compared to other visual elements.
The basics of color psychology originate in their placement on the color wheel. Warm colors are often linked with feelings of passion or intensity. Cool colors are often associated with feeling calm or at ease.
Colors are chock full of symbolism that can be a powerful branding tool when combined with the right strategy. We’ll show you how.
Brand Color Psychology 101
When it comes to branding colors are never an arbitrary decision – at least, they shouldn’t be. Many of the world’s most successful brands leverage their carefully crafted palettes as differentiators in and of themselves, so much so that they’re able to cut the brand name from their logo altogether. Red shirt and khakis? Welcome to Target. Green straw in a clear cup? I’ll take a skinny caramel frappuccino, please.
Some disruptive brands have used color to break the mold. Pink is a natural choice for whimsical brands like Barbie and Baskin Robbins, but T-Mobile’s trademark on magenta basically turned the tech space on its head. As an industry newbie up against the three Goliaths of cellular, color helped the Uncarrier stand its ground.
Color is one of the primary brand elements used to shape consumer perception – studies suggest they can have up to a 80% influence on purchasing behavior. Alina Wheeler, author of Designing Brand Identity, illustrates that there are three steps to the sequence of cognition: 1) shape, 2) color, and 3) content, with color being the most tied to instinct and emotion.
A single color can cause a variety of emotional responses based on a person’s experiences, cultural context, gender, and variations in brain chemistry, however, centuries of scientific research have granted us a few universal truths.
Shiny, loud sports cars. Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Your least favorite scene in every horror movie.
Red has the power to spark emotional, even physiological responses. Fast food giants love red because it increases heart rate, amps up appetite, and reduces analytical thinking. Hungry yet?
The Good: Energy, passion, appetite, love
The Bad: Anger, pain, danger, aggression, warning
If your goal is to grab attention and elicit a strong response fast, consider taking red for a spin. Just remember, a little goes a long way.
Warm campfires. Crisp fall leaves. A sunset on the horizon.
Orange combines the energy and intensity of red with the optimism and warmth of yellow, to create an energetic and uplifting hue. Think traffic cones or construction zones. Noticeable. Flashy. A sign of improvement.
Orange is also associated with value, explaining why brands like The Home Depot and Amazon have found immense success with this distinctive choice.
The Good: Friendliness, cheer, confidence, vitality, value
The Bad: Frustration, sluggishness, overwhelm, punishment, immaturity
For a signature shade as dynamic and multifaceted as your brand, look no further than this dimensional hue.
The brightest bulb in the box. A smiley face sticker on the back of a VW Bus. Sunflowers in bloom.
Similar to red, yellow’s metabolism-boosting effects & high visibility explain why it’s plastered on every fluorescent sign luring you into your favorite drive-thru. It’s commonly associated with cheer and optimism, something Nikon and IKEA use to their advantage. You can totally build that dresser by yourself!
The Good: Creativity, optimism, warmth, intellect, cheer
The Bad: Aggression, fear, cowardice, caution, anxiety
Want to convey your brand’s easygoing, happy-go-lucky attitude? Consider taking advantage of the brightest color on the spectrum. Remember, less is more!
The magical forest in your favorite fantasy novel. An Irish good luck charm. A meal you always feel good eating.
Green is the easiest color on the eyes, and equally calming for the psyche – designers often use it to put people at ease in public spaces. As the color of nature, green implies growth, literally (health and wellness) and figuratively (wealth and prosperity), signifying balance and harmony.
Brands like John Deere and Whole Foods use green to signify nature, health, and peace.
The Good: Safety, health, peace, growth, prosperity
The Bad: Envy, sickness, boredom, stagnation, fatigue
For a brand that runs on good vibes, green may be the natural choice.
The ultimate ocean view. A clear, sunny day. Your favorite pair of Levi’s.
Unlike its primary counterparts, blue’s impact is more psychological than physiological. We’ve all heard of “having the blues”, but studies have also found people to be more productive in blue rooms, which is why it’s commonly seen in office buildings. Like the ocean, blue combines unyielding strength with serenity.
Brands like Allstate, American Express, and Blue Cross Blue Shield use blue to establish trust, strength, and security.
The Good: Trust, strength, security, serenity, loyalty
The Bad: Coldness, aloofness, unfriendliness, passivity
Got a brand with a good head on its shoulders? Blue could be the hue for you.
Wildflowers on a mountainside. Glittering gemstones. The villain in every children’s movie.
Purple mixes the serenity and security of blue with the energy and passion of red for a complex & mysterious result. Its conflicting undertones can create a confusing, even unsettling viewing experience, so it’s critical that brands distinctly lean into either its coolness or warmth.
Brands like Yahoo, Twitch, and Hallmark leverage purple’s unique dichotomy of playfulness and mystery to establish whimsy, wisdom, and opulence.
The Good: Imagination, wisdom, royalty, bravery, luxury
The Bad: Artificiality, frivolity, inferiority, moodiness, unpredictability
Hope to keep your audience curious? Keep the wonder alive with this rich shade.
Sprinkled donuts. Cotton candy skies. A majestic bird with great balance.
Magenta is another in-between hue, leveraging the boldness of red and the imaginativeness of purple for an impact that is nothing if not distinct. Its roots in these two hues prompt associations with innovation, vibrance, and creativity, making it perfect for the movers and shakers of the world (aka, T-Mobile).
The Good: Creativity, transformation, innovation, balance, compassion
The Bad: Juvenility, outrageousness, eccentricity, recklessness, flippancy
Looking to shake things up? Magenta is sure to do the trick.
Rich, lively soil. A sturdy pair of boots. A warm cup of coffee.
Brown leverages the warmth of red and yellow with the regality of black, for a result that is unmistakably inviting, yet strong. Its clear roots in nature make it synonymous with authenticity and organicness.
Brands ranging from Hershey to UPS leverage the color’s organic yet sophisticated origins to spark feelings of comfort and dependability.
The Good: Sophistication, authenticity, warmth, durability, support
The Bad: Dirtiness, solemnity, isolation, emptiness, sadness
If you’re looking for a color that’s equal parts emotive and utilitarian, brown won’t let you down.
An endless road ahead. The second after the lights turn off. A night under the stars.
Black is the absorption of all light, therefore, the absence of light. A strong color both in the optic universe and in the psyche, inspiring feelings of danger, mystery, and gloom.
Black also implies weight and seriousness, which in turn makes it powerful and sophisticated. Some of the world’s most luxurious brands, such as Chanel, Gucci, and Prada, use black to evoke a sense of timelessness and exclusivity.
The Good: Sophistication, timelessness, power, elegance, significance
The Bad: Evil, mourning, danger, aggression, death
Have a brand that stands the test of time? Black will help it stand tall.
Snow-covered mountain views. A dandelion’s second life. Lush clouds in the sky.
White is the reflection of all wavelengths and therefore the absence of all color, widely regarded as the symbol of purity and innocence.
White is spacious and light, sleek and chic, a favorite of Apple’s to create contrast and better highlight the simple elegance of their products. Minimalism at its finest.
The Good: Purity, innocence, calmness, cleanliness, spaciousness
The Bad: Sterility, blandness, unfriendliness, coldness, emptiness
Hoping to give your audience some breathing room? White could be your fresh start.
Disrupting in Color
While it’s important to know the standards, don’t get too tied down by the laws of the land. Companies like T-Mobile hang their hat on going against the grain, and there’s plenty more where that came from. As The Disruptive Branding Agency, our portfolio is full of projects that helped our clients cut through the noise of their industry. See for yourself here.
Whether you’re a disruptor or a rule follower, making the right impact with your visual identity means putting color in context, which starts with a greater understanding of your brand positioning. Enter brand discovery.
No matter how you slice it, colors are full of powerful symbolism that, in combination with insight-driven brand strategy, help bring your brand personality to life.
Now that you know the rules, you have permission to break them. Want a visual identity that packs a punch? We can help with that.