Psychology of Color: A Normal Person's Guide

Psychology of Color : A Normal Person’s Guide

May 31, 2016

Psychology of Color: A Normal Person's Guide

Psychology of Color: A Normal Person's Guide
Image (Creative Commons): Flickr.com Steve Corey

Color is a sensation. It's a sensation of light and light is energy. Energy can stimulate, excite, evoke emotions, create feelings of warmth, coolness, comfort or discomfort and can also influence physiological behaviors such as hunger or aggression. And developing an understanding of how color affects us is why we study the psychology of color.

Color is made up of single wavelengths of energy. As the eye receives and separates these wavelengths, it passes them on to the brain where they are instantly processed and subconsciously invoke a reaction. If you have a good understanding of the psychology of color, you can use color to help influence the way people engage and interact with your games, advertising or your marketing campaigns.

Have you heard of Chromatherapy?

It's a holistic practice that believes the energy from colored light can be used to heal certain ailments. In Chromatherapy, it is believed that Blue can be used to soothe pain and treat certain illnesses. Red stimulates the body and mind and can increase blood circulation. Orange is an energy color, the combination of blue and red and as such can increase physical energy. Yellow purifies the body while stimulating the nervous system.

  • Blue: soothes pain, comforting
  • Red: stimulates body and mind, increase blood circulation
  • Orange: energizing, revitalizing
  • Yellow: purifying, stimulates nervous system
  • Blue + Red: increases physical energy

Chromatherapy dates back as far as the ancient Egyptians, some 5000 years ago. Think about it ... 5000 years of associating colors to how we feel has got to have an impact on our subconscious response to colors.

Psychology of Color: Red Lights of Vegas
Psychology of Color: Red Lights of Vegas, Image: (Creative Commons) flickr.com Jericl Cat

And it proves true today. Red raises our blood pressure, increases our hunger response, stimulates our senses and is linked to increased aggression. Blue, the opposite of Red on the color spectrum and has the opposite physiological effect even to the point of being calming.

When was the last time you visited Las Vegas? Notice any particular color in the photo? Yup. Red.

The way people react to color is dependent on three basic factors:

  • Culture
  • Personal Experiences
  • Fit

Culture

The Internet has had a major impact on the way the world interacts and communicates. This includes narrowing the cultural differences in the way color influences us.

As designers, artists, marketers and game developers we need to be aware that cultural differences exist and they can be pretty extreme. In certain cultures, the color red is seen as a good luck and success color in China, whereas here in Western culture it's symbolic of danger and means to stop. In Nigeria it is symbolic of death.

For the most part, culture breaks down into two basic segments: Western culture and Eastern culture. According to Jennifer Kyrnin at About.com here's how Eastern and Western cultures think of color:

The Color Wheel
The Color Wheel

Red
Eastern: Worn by brides, happiness and prosperity
Western: Excitement, danger, love, passion, stop, Christmas (with Green), Valentine's Day

Pink
Eastern: Marriage
Western: Love, babies (especially female babies), Valentine's Day

Gold
Eastern: Wealth, strength
Western: Wealth

Yellow
Eastern: Proof against evil, for the dead, sacred, imperial
Western: Hope, hazards, coward, weakness, taxis

Green
Eastern: Eternity, family, health, prosperity, peach
Western: Spring, new birth, go, money, Saint Patrick's Day, Christmas (with Red)

Blue
Eastern: Wealth, self-cultivation
Western: Depression, sadness, conservative, corporate, "something blue" bridal traditional

Purple
Eastern: Wealth
Western: Royalty

White
Eastern: Funerals, helpful people, children, marriage, mourning, peace, travel
Western: Brides, angels, good guys, hospitals, doctors, peace (white dove)

Black
Eastern: Career, evil, knowledge, mourning, penance
Western: Funerals, death, Halloween (with Orange), bad guys, rebellion

Personal Experiences

Our personal experiences also influence our reactions to color. You might really like a certain color because you associate positive memories to that color. On the other hand, you may dislike a color because of your negative memories associated to it.

Or maybe your childhood best friend was incredibly fond of purple and it's kind of stuck with you all this time. A favorite TV show might have had a subconscious influence on your attraction to a certain color and now when you experience products matching that color you have an unexplained desire for them.

In keeping with personal experiences, scientists believe that color attraction may also have something to do with evolution.

Red berry against green background.
Red berry against green background. Image (Creative Commons): Flickr.com theilr

Blue skies are the real-world sign of calm weather. In an ancient hunter/gather society, red would have been popular amongst women who were in search of red berries against green foliage, while men may have been in search of the brown or tan colors of the animals they were hunting.

Our modern personal experiences have definitely been influenced by marketers and brands over the course of our life times. Children raised on McDonald's foods may have a strong attraction towards reds and yellows, associating them to the sensational tastes and feelings of contentedness from eating.

Fit

Culture and personal experiences add up to our concept of how certain colors fit and match with each other and how certain brands and brand experiences match and fit with the colors that have been associated to them. In other words, brands and products have a definite color personality that is associated to them by consumers.

As you can see from the Color Emotion Guide chart, certain feelings are associated to fitting with certain brands. See how many actually resonate and hold true for you.

A color emotion guide
A Color Emotion Guide, Source: The Logo Company

According to The Logo Company:

  • Yellow: optimistic
  • Orange: creative, bold, youthful and enthusiastic
  • Red: raises energy levels
  • Purple: sparks imagination
  • Blue: dependability
  • Green: growth
  • Black and White: classic colors that are both simple and elegant

You can read the full article here: https://thelogocompany.net/blog/infographics/psychology-color-logo-design/

Adobe Color (formerly Adobe Kuler)

Adobe Color is an incredibly powerful tool from Adobe that lets you experiment and try out different color schemes and combinations.

Adobe Color - Allows you to experiment with color combinations.
Adobe Color - Allows you to experiment with color combinations.

Color allows you to experiment with seven different color rules including Analogous, Monochromatic, Triad, Complementary, Compound, Shades and of course custom sets.

Analogous colors are groups of three colors that are next to each other on the color wheel, with one being the dominant color, which tends to be a primary or secondary color, and one on either side of the color. Red, red-orange, and red-violet are examples.

Monochromatic colors are all the colors (tints, tones, and shades) of a single hue.

Triadic color schemes use colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.

Complementary colors are pairs of colors which, when combined, cancel each other out.

Compound colours are all the earth colours, browns, ochres etc. They contain a mixture of all three primaries.

Shades are variations of a color based on lightness values.

While it's great information to know, Adobe Color makes it incredibly easy to switch between the different models and see the differences with your own eyes to help decide what's working and what's not.

The color wheel always shows the complimentary (opposite) color. Check out Red. You'll see the complimentary color of Red is Green. What are the two colors of Christmas? That's right, Red and Green. They work well together. Just as Orange works with Blue, and Yellow works with Purple.

Adobe Color allows you to work with up to 5 different colors. By stacking your colors you can design an incredibly rich color palette that will work in any game environment.

Game Design

When color is used in game design, it makes it incredibly easy to identify objects, make and determine spatial relationships, create mood, atmosphere and tone, and create and encourage a heightened sense of drama.

Color grading, tonality, lightness, brightness, contrast and darkness all contribute to establishing mood, which in turn can be manipulated to invoke an emotional response.

Look at First-Person-Shooters like Call of Duty and compare the mood to a Casual Game like Angry Birds. The basic game objective is similar ... shoot at stuff. But the look, feel, mood and atmosphere are completely different. The game play of Call of Duty creates a feeling of dread and trepidation. Whereas Angry Birds is mirthful and encouraging.

Other color related factors come in to play. Hue and saturation invoke responses as well. Desaturated games have a feeling of nostalgia or desolation. Games with a blue hue feel more cold and sterile. Games with a rich orange and red hue can feel warm and threatening.

Great game designers have an incredible eye for establishing visual hierarchy through the use of color, saturation, contrast and hue. They're able to guide and manipulate the player's eye to those elements that are important. The same technique can be used to establish a sense of depth and dimensionality within the visual environment the gamer is playing in.

Command and Conquer along with Age of Empires both use the color Red and Blue as powerful identifiers within a scene. And of course, Portal 2 has done an amazing job with color. The use of Orange and Blue portals makes it easier for gamers to identify the underlying mechanics of the game play.


Dead Corps uses color to help guide the players through the experience
Dead Corps uses color to help guide the players through the experience

In Disrupted Logic's Dead Corps Zombie Outbreak, we used colors and color themes to create a sense of variety and variation within levels. By changing color palettes, we enriched the gaming experience and were able to guide gamers through different levels with different objectives.

Appeal to Target Market

Whether you are designing a game or a marketing campaign you have to understand the impact of the psychology of color within your target demographic.

Men respond to differently to certain colors than women. Teenagers respond differently than adults.

Design your color palettes to appeal to your preferred demographic and you'll do well. Never leave it up to chance or a "feeling". Do the research.

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