Color is one thing that many people simply take for granted. Since we see in color, and our world is largely populated with color, we simply never think about how color may be affecting and influencing us.
Someone, however, is. Advertisers and “big business” know exactly what effects colors have on you, and exactly how to use those colors as one more leveraging tool to try and get you to buy their product. Ever wonder why Coke is red? Or the Best Buy logo is yellow and black? Those colors aren’t chosen at random or because they “look good together”. Marketing and design firms spend months upon months generating hundred, perhaps even thousands, of color comps and “market testing” them to selected focus groups.
There’s no way to accurately reflect the sheer volume of texts written on this subject, however, all one needs is a brief overview to learn how to effectively use color in one’s own daily life.
Black is the color of power, authority, and gravitas. Priest’s robes are black, as well as Judge’s cloaks. Black in large amounts is usually described by most as “overbearing” or “overpowering”. “Evil” is another word commonly associated with black. Black absorbs all light in the color spectrum. Black is commonly associated with power, whether it be good or evil.
In fashion, black is favoured for it’s ability to reduce detail and to “slim” the wearer. It also has a tendency to match whatever it’s placed against. In text, black is common. Black can stand out on almost any background with the exception of the darkest shades.
Items, such as boxes, in black, as opposed to white or lighter shades, will usually appear heavier or more “substantial” to viewers.
White is a symbol of rebirth, purity, innocence, and trust. Also a color of peace. Raising the “white flag” in war symbolizes a cease fire or surrender, while the “white dove” is considered a symbol of peace (see: woodstock logo). White is considered a ‘neutral’ color. Medical professions rely heavily on white clothing to enhance the image of sterility and cleanliness.
White can create a sense of space, openness, or lightness, as seen in Apple’s MacBook campaign. Users continually affirm (mistakenly) that the black MacBook weighs more than the white MacBook, even when allowed to test their weight by hand. White is also generally perceived as “hard to keep clean”.
White is also perceived as “unfriendly” when used overmuch. “White space”, the blank space in a print or on-line publication, is generally seen as a negative.
Red is very emotionally stirring and intense. It makes the blood rush, the heart pump, and stimulates the nerves. Red is often used to describe quick, rushed, or hurried actions. Red is used in stoplights because of it’s high intensity.
Red leaves it’s image longest on the retina, making red cars appear to be moving faster than other colors, even when travelling the same speed. It’s further associations are love (Valentine’s day, red hearts), warmth (fire, heat), and comfort. Red is the color of romance.
Red is considered an extreme color. Current color theory holds that red incites people to more frequent impulse buying, hence the popularity of “red-tag sales”. There is no hard evidence to support this, however. Red is best used as an accent or a highlight, as using it prominently can distract.
Blue is commonly associated with little boys rooms or playthings. Clothing, as well, will commonly be blue for young boys. Blue is a tranquil, placid color that can also range toward depressing and cold shades. Lighter blues are pacifying in nature. Blue symbolizes loyalty and steadfastness. Blue rooms are also noted to increase productivity.
Blue is used very sparingly in regards to food because it is regarded as the least appetizing color. There are few foods that are naturally blue in nature. Blue is also considered a color of high regard (blue ribbons, blue blood).
Green is closely associated with nature or the natural world. Grass is green, as are many natural foods. Green is relaxing and calming, and helps improve the thought process, which is perhaps why green is used sparingly in advertising. Green also symbolizes fertility or rebirth. Dark green implies understated wealth or conservative prosperity.
Green has also been theorized to improve reading speed and comprehension. Text printed in green has been claimed to be better understood by students. There is little hard proof to support this.
Yellow is highly fatiguing to the eye, whether in print or digital media. The high amount of light reflected in yellow is the culprit. Yellow is among the hardest to read when used as text. Yellow, even more than red, can attract immediate attention due again to the amount of light it reflects. It is closely associated with caution or danger in the West, thanks to the large number of official signs and banners that use it (police tape, highway signs, and stop lights to name a few).
Yellow is considered cheerful, however rooms decorated fully in yellow can lead to high stress and short fuses. Yellow does enhance concentration, which is why yellow is the most popular highlighter color. By demanding attention, yellow highlights make the text stand out prominently.
Purple is most closely associated with royalty. However, purple rarely shows up in advertising simply because it shows up rarely in everyday life. Purple is also a muted color, and makes for “weak” or “subdued” ads.
Purple text is notoriously hard to read on almost any background due to it’s low intensity. Purple highlights have a tendency to get “sucked in” to the background or item they are meant to highlight.
Purple in decorating is often seen as garish, unnatural, or “ugly”.
Brown is a solid, weighty color. Khaki pants, the standard of most “business casual” dress codes, are usually shades of brown, while briefcases and luggage are predominantly brown. Leather and wood are closely associated with brown, signifying long-standingness, tradition, and richness. Men are usually closely drawn to brown colors, with dark brown being the favourite. Brown in decoration brings to mind security and comfort. Brown is found predominantly in legal fields, with close associations to the courtroom use of dark woods.
In nature brown is commonly associated with bark, trees, wood, and dirt. Steadfastness is a commonly associated word with brown, though ‘dependability’ is more used in modern times.
Orange brings to mind excitement, flippancy, fun, and outgoing good times. It is energetic and vibrant. People that wear orange are considered to be good in crowds or comfortable garnering a lot of attention.
Orange is used sparingly in Western advertisements due to it’s close associations with Halloween. It is also avoided because of it’s predominant use in American construction trades.