“Colour is a force that directly affects the soul”Pablo Picasso
Date of the last update: 22.02.2023
Artists certainly know a lot about the psychological significance of colours, but so do marketing specialists, fashion stylists, interior designers, and many other professions that can use the impact of different colours on people to reach their objectives. Particular colours trigger certain emotions, associations and even behaviour. Find out how this mechanism works, and the importance of different colours here.
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Colour and its meaning
Colour, because of the associations they evoke, can serve a variety of functions, whether in public spaces, education, or advertising. The strategic use of colours can draw attention to a particular feature, or increase the impact of a message. Some colours have become so firmly encoded in the minds of people across the world that it is often enough to show a symbol in a selected colour for us to understand the message. For example, the implicit meanings behind the colours green and red when applied together – in traffic lights, shopping apps, or currency and stock exchange – have become universally ‘encoded’ in our minds to indicate ‘yes/no’ or ‘good/bad’.
Whilst associations such as this example can be universal, other colour associations can vary between different cultures, and can be influenced by context and personal experience.
As well as being used across the world to bring attention to danger (on street warning signs, or even on online forms highlighting an error) red is believed to be eye-catching, dynamic, active, energetic, and stimulating. In marketing psychology, red is sometimes used to stimulate impulsive, spontaneous purchases. Red also symbolises love, but in excess, it can represent aggression.
Green usually symbolises peace, relaxation, renewal, and of course, nature. Green has a positive effect on human well-being, and surrounding oneself with greenery – especially natural greenery – has a soothing effect. In business, the colour green is used by brands that want to be perceived as safe and trustworthy. In contrast with red’s implicit message of ‘stop’ in certain contexts, green is used to express consent and availability.
Yellow represents optimism, creativity, youthfulness, and openness. In marketing it is often used to draw attention to reduced, promotional prices. Yellow is seen as a cheerful, sunny colour that evokes happiness and positivity in people. Yellow is also often associated with enlightenment, understanding, knowledge, and clarity of thought.
Orange evokes positive emotions. Similarly to yellow, it is perceived as enthusiastic, warm, optimistic, creative, and energetic. Similarly to green, surrounding yourself with the colour orange is believed to positively influence people’s mood. It is also believed to stimulate appetite.
Blue represents confidence, trust, harmony, and peace. Some brands use blue to give an impression of reliability, professionalism, and stability. On the contrary, in gastronomy the colour blue is avoided, as it is thought to have an appetite-suppressing effect.
White is associated with purity and innocence, as well as with peace and tranquillity. It is also the colour of peace (a white flag signifies surrender and peace), openness, and honesty. Psychologically, white evokes positive emotions and inspires confidence. In marketing, this colour is most commonly used in the wedding industry.
Black represents elegance, luxury, sophistication, and mystery. Black is used by brands that want to be perceived as elite and prestigious. In contrast, in many cultures black also symbolises mourning, loss, sadness, and seriousness. Another association with black is power and authority. Lastly, in combination with white, black can represent simplicity, minimalism, and modernity.
With the above examples alone, one can confidently argue that colours have a strong impact on human emotions and can evoke certain emotions, thoughts and even behaviours. However, although some of these symbolisms are universal, it is worth remembering that some associations with a given colour can depend on context, cultural background, and personal experience.
- Kilijańska B.: The influence of the color of the message on its perception. Journalism and Media, No. 8, 2017.
- Płotka M., Litwin W.: Psychology of color in relation to information systems, PJWSTK Publishing House, Warsaw, 2010.
- Sabater V.:The psychology of color: what colors mean and how they affect us, https://pieknoumyslu.com/psychologia-koloru-wplyw/, accessed 08.02.2023.