Normally when a designer starts off with any references to color the room goes silent and everybody starts looking around anxiously for an escape. Yes, this is at times one of those emotional moments in most designers’ lives.
Today we will put an end to the anxiety and explain the science behind the feeling of color, and trust me this makes most designers anxious.
Before we can actively decide what the effect of color is on the human mind let’s have a look at how it actually works. In essence, all color see is light, it travels to your retina in waves, from the sun from a car wherever it is coming from. To easily explain this wave theory Sir Isaac Newton used a prism to show that if you shine white light into a triangular prism the light waves refract at different angles showcasing the entire rainbow! So the color spectrum is then merely the different components of light.
When these different components of light strike a colored object that object will absorb the wavelengths that match its own atomic structure and reflect the remainder. This remainder would then be the visible color that we see. Now, this is where it gets truly interesting, when this light shines into our eyes it reacts with us as humans. The wavelengths enter the retina and then influence our retina, this influence is most severely felt in the part of the brain that governs our endocrine system (The System that deals with emotions) specifically these waves travel through the hypothalamus section.
The hypothalamus section is a small section in the middle of the brain whose nuclei is mostly associated with the production of hormones and the balance of the nervous system, as most of you are aware that hormones are mostly responsible for functions such as appetite, metabolism, sleep patterns, body temperature and reproductive functions.
Are you alarmed at the power of color waves flowing through brain working on your nervous or perhaps now anxious system?
The color around us affect us, it has an effect on our mood, think for instance clear blue skies bright flowers and were ready for holiday excited and a little euphoric however when it becomes overcast and rainy we get a little more protective about where we want to be. In instances, it’s our protective warning system. These small signifiers in color are the human minds way of subconsciously communicating certain parts of not only the surroundings but also being human with our bodies and our minds.
Instinctively we don’t really pay as much attention to nature and the surroundings as we used to but the color still plays the same role as ever. There is a message ingrained in our subconscious mind about the color people wear the color brands use and the color of our food.
Ok, I see you thinking about what does the whole mixture of color do will that then cause an emotional meltdown. I believe that our brains are slightly more adept when working with color, i.e. it takes the whole mix and assigns a mood or feeling from the mix it gets. As one color Guru says the mixture of color is like the mixture of musical notes done right it can give you the right effect done wrong and you can have something quite different.
Without delving in way too deep into the whole color is your friend world, let’s zoom out a bit and have a look at what the different colors may affect and what feeling, in general, most people get from certain colors.
Each color has a different effect on the body mind and emotions, as well as the way in which these psychological colors balance out between each other. Let us take a closer look at the eleven basic colors and what they evoke in us:
Red, the Colour of Sports and physicality, courage, strength, warmth, energy, survival, stimulation, masculinity, excitement. However used it can also be perceived as Defiant, aggressive, impacting and strenuous. Red is very powerful, although not always most visible but stimulating and lively.
With red being the longest color in the spectrum it always appear closer, It has a physical effect on us, it grabs our attention like traffic signs and signals. It has the power to raise your pulse, which could let you believe that time is actually moving faster. It can even activate your protective instincts and make you hungry just ask all the fast food restaurants.
Intellectually blue? Yes, I do! Blue is the wonder of Intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, logic, coolness and calm. But it could also be cold and emotionless so watch out for overusing it. Blue can soothe your soul as it has a more mental reaction, it can open up our minds and aid in concentration, its serene and calming effect can aid in clear conversation.
Don’t get too emotional as we spend some time with yellow the true optimist that stands for, confidence, self-esteem, strength, and creativity. It’s such a friendly color. Taken in the wrong way it could lead to severe irritability, fear or anxiety.
The yellow wavelength is relatively long and essentially stimulating. In this case, the stimulus is emotional, therefore yellow is the strongest color, psychologically. The right yellow will lift our spirits and our self-esteem; it is the color of confidence and optimism. Too much of it, or the wrong tone in relation to the other tones in a color scheme, can cause self-esteem to plummet, giving rise to fear and anxiety. Our “yellow streak” can surface.
Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the center of the spectrum, it is the color of balance – a more important concept than many people realize. When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green, on a primitive level. Negatively, it can indicate stagnation and, incorrectly used, will be perceived as being too bland.
Well from bland to spiritual Violet being the shortest wavelength in the visible light spectrum, often named purple takes on the realm of inner awareness and higher thought level. It brings out the spirituality and encourages the viewer to meditate and contemplate the grandness and magic of our universe. It is a signifier of great quality and royalty. It is seen as the time and space color due to its short wavelength and its power of introspection. But once overused it can cause major introspection and a fake feeling like it’s either cheap or kitsch.
I believe that as now you could probably notice that a lot of the colors in moderation has very positive links to our humanity and yet in over usage it becomes a bit of an emotional overload causing all sorts of negative feelings. But let’s continue
The next colour is another one of my favourites, I have actually worked with a brand that had Orange as its main colour and wow was it interesting, It was at this stage that I started truly understanding the brand perspective and usage of colour from doing products and sales materials you could feel when it started to become too much. So Orange the mixture of red and yellow it causes quite a stimulation (Just look at what it’s used for) It brings forth a physical yet emotional reaction. It focusses our minds comfort and warmth, imagine fast foods and pizza’s (Yes I see pizzas) Fun and sensuality (Fanta Orange the Fun Fizzy). But know this too much orange can make you seem a bit silly like it removes the substance from the design and makes it over giddy and suggest a lack of professionalism and seriousness.
Probably one of the most misunderstood colors is the red tint: pink. A tranquil nurturing feminine color, it sows love and warmth and inhibits strong emotions in most viewers. Some say it may even have a sexual connotation to it.
Pink is a very powerful psychological color, however too much of it and you could feel a bit emasculated and drained as it physically tears down masculinity so be weary that pink room might just be a little too much!
One of my favorite secondary colors to use in design (And I only noticed this now after years of designing) is Grey it actually has no psychological influence on us. Wow, gray much?
It can be a bit depressing as you can imagine any overcast day, it dampens any color used with it, so remember that when you have to solve a screaming design add some gray and tone it down! However be careful as it can also be seen as a lack of confidence, fear of standing out brightly! Very easy to the eyes and a great color for conveying text that reads, relaxed.
Brown another mix this time between red yellow and a large percentage of black. Unfortunately Brown is not black It has a little of the red and yellow properties with a natural feel added an earthy grounded feel. (Can you feel it?) It comes across as reliable and solid like earth. People describe it as a supportive color yet not as unforgiving as black. Definitely, a color to incorporate into your work again not as much as everything else.
Pure gray is the only color that has no direct psychological properties. It is, however, quite suppressive. A virtual absence of color is depressing and when the world turns gray we are instinctively conditioned to draw in and prepare for hibernation. Unless the precise tone is right, gray has a dampening effect on other colors used with it. Heavy use of gray usually indicates a lack of confidence and fear of exposure.
Now we move from gray to black, all the colors it is a very absorbing color when you need protection cover yourself in black, it has an amazing feeling of providing a barrier as it absorbs all the energy coming toward you. It is seen as essentially the absence of light, there are no wavelengths reflected so it would stand out loud as a hole, which also causes people to be afraid of it as it absorbs so it hides and it brings out nocturnal fears in quite a few people. If used positively black can give clarity and sophistication, it is seen as excellence and seriousness (probably because it’s so unforgiving when using it in design it either works or not)
From complete absorption to ultimate reflection white is the color spectrum combined at once in your face. It isn’t absorbed it’s reflective it also gives us that barrier feeling but it’s not easy to look at times it can be quite strenuous. White gives off this untouchable feeling it is uncompromisingly clear, clean and hygienic. It can easily be taken negatively in its cold cleanness it can even feel a bit to clean sometimes.
Now that you have some insight into the magical world of color just think about how this will affect your world, your brand, and your advertising. Just think you can convert a window shopper to an in-store buyer by just utilising the right colour in your presentation, Your fast food store can actually make you hungry while you look at their menu or their branding (ever wondered why they always use the same colours!!) they can even make you feel like time is passing quicker and you’re not waiting that long at all. You can alter the mood you have when you get home by picking the right paint when you renovate again. The applications are endless. However, for our use, let’s stick to making good designs that will have the right color for your markets purpose to generate the optimal output and buy-in for your next design. Color wild and change the world. Thank you for tuning in for another blog story.