How color impacts emotions and behaviors

Color plays an important role in brand identity — it draws consumers to products, stirs emotions and has a huge impact on brand recognition.

Colors can make us feel happy or sad… they can make us feel hungry or relaxed. As a designer, it’s important to understand the psychological effects colors might have on an average person, or your client’s target audience. Lets take a closer look at how color impacts our emotions and behaviors.

Warm colors

Red, orange and yellow are next to each other on the wheel and are all warm colors. Warm colors often evoke feelings of happiness, optimism and energy. However, yellow and orange can also slightly irritate the eyes and red can increase a person’s appetite.

Think about fast food restaurants like McDonald’s or KFC — most of these places incorporate the color yellow and red. Why? Because they want people to get hungry and then eat quickly.

Red

Red

Photograph: Cas Cornelissen (via Unsplash)

Red is the warmest and most dynamic of the colors — it triggers opposing emotions. It is often associated with passion and love as well as anger and danger. It can increase a person’s heart rate and make them excited.

If you want to draw attention to a design element, use red. But use it as an accent color in moderation as it can be overwhelming.

Orange

Orange

Photograph: Afroz Nawaf (via Unsplash)

Orange enhances a feeling of vitality and happiness. Like red, it draws attention and shows movement but is not as overpowering. It is aggressive but balanced — it portrays energy yet can be inviting and friendly. Orange is great for a call to action to buy or subscribe to a product.

Yellow

Yellow

Photograph: Alexander Shustov (via Unsplash)

Yellow is perhaps the most energetic of the warm colors. It is associated with laughter, hope and sunshine. Accents of yellow help give your design energy and will make the viewer feel optimistic and cheerful. However, yellow tends to reflect more light and can irritate a person’s eyes. Too much yellow can be overwhelming and should be used sparingly. In design, it is often used to grab attention in an energetic and comforting way.

Cool colors

Cool colors include green, blue, and purple. Cool colors are usually calming and soothing but can also express sadness. Purple is often used to help spark creativity as it’s a mixture of blue (calm) and red (intense). If a company wants to display health, beauty or security, incorporate these colors.

Green

Green

Photograph: Buzo Jesús (via Unsplash)

Green symbolizes health, new beginnings and wealth. Green is the easiest on the eyes and should be used to relax and create balance in a design. It is a great color to use if a company wants to depict growth, security or inspire possibility.

Blue

Blue

Photograph: J DuClos (via Unsplash)

Blue evokes feelings of calmness and spirituality as well as security and trust. Seeing the color blue causes the body to create chemicals that are calming. It is no surprise that it’s the most favored of the colors. Dark blues are great for corporate designs because it helps give a professional feel, but using too much can create a cold, disengaged feeling. Light blues give a more relaxing, friendly feel. Great examples are social sites like Facebook and Twitter who use lighter blues.

Purple

Purple

Photograph: Sonja Langford (via Unsplash)

Purple is associated with creativity, royalty and wealth. Purple is often used to soothe or calm a viewer, hence why it is used in beauty products. Incorporate purple to make a design look more luxurious and wealthy or a lighter purple to show romance and mystery.

Neutral colors

neutral

Photograph: Noel Lopez (via Unsplash)

Neutral colors include black, gray, white, tan and brown. In design, these colors are great as background colors. Use black, gray and white when using brighter colors. If you are using textures, then incorporate tan and brown as your backdrop.

It is important to note that colors can be subjective – what might make one person feel cheerful can make another person feel irritated depending on the viewers’ past experiences or cultural differences.

Color is not completely agreed on universally and can appeal differently to individual countries. A designer must study their target audience and choose colors accordingly.

What is your favorite color?

Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Community Manager at 99designs. When she's not writing blogs and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!
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14 Comments

  1. Andrew EVans

    Colours are rarely used in isolation so it’s the combination of colours that often give the overall mood. You can change how red is percieved by combining it with something else.

    As far as target audience is concerned, any colour combination (done correctly) can give off the same impression regardless of whether you’re using pink, blue, yellow or any other crazy combinations. I personally don’t feel that colour pshychology has the same weight that it probably used to, even if the theory still circulates.

    Reply September 9, 2011 at 11:44 am
    • Allison Stuart

      I agree that designers need to know more than color psychology to advance in design. But it is necessary to know the fundamentals of any complex subject so that you can build from there.

      Think of this as the first class of Color 101 ;) We will be posting more in-depth articles about this topic.

      Cheers,
      Allison

      Reply September 9, 2011 at 10:47 pm
  2. arthdesain

    good article for beginner to making my design better than before, thanks … its useful for me. :)

    Reply September 10, 2011 at 12:02 am
  3. Marc Adison Jamero

    Hey! I really love this post of yours. Huge help for all of us! By pure common sense, designers know a thing or two or even three about colors. But never did I expect that there is really more to learn and to remember about colors; e.g. how to use them properly, blending and baking them together. Colors do play a very important role [a vital role]. And I didn’t know that colors got some tight connection with psychological effects on people.

    Reply September 10, 2011 at 1:03 am
  4. arimo

    very useful article – many thnaks :)
    cheers

    Reply February 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm
  5. $atya kallur

    It really works colors makes a individual feels better hence this website is useful for those who believes in colors.

    Reply December 7, 2012 at 6:44 am
  6. Zoltan Vider

    This article is great. I’m a web-design specialist and when I’m on the phone with a potential client, I’ll sneak a peak at this article to help me with colors :)

    Reply April 11, 2013 at 9:34 am
    • Jason Aiken

      Thanks Zoltan – glad you find it useful!

      Reply April 11, 2013 at 10:09 am
  7. Janet O’Neill

    This is great, may I use it in a color lesson plan?
    I am an art teacher

    Reply April 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm
    • Jason Aiken

      Hi Janet,

      Sure – feel free.

      Cheers,
      Jason

      Reply April 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm
  8. Choosing Color

    Great post! Been reading a lot about choosing colors. Thanks for the info here!

    Reply June 10, 2014 at 8:18 am
  9. Barbara352

    Glad reading this detailed post! Colors enhances the communication quotient in design! Our choice of color directly reflects the essence of ‘passion’ and ‘feelings’ we shared. This is the reason why red is for love, grey for dullness, white for purity/peace and green for freshness. Every color has a story to narrate and an idea to express. This is all about it :)

    Reply June 10, 2014 at 11:06 pm
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    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment
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    Reply June 16, 2014 at 1:50 am
  11. h

    i love yellow

    Reply July 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

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