Information Applied To Graphic Design: Color Psychology
When designers at Berni Corp. changed the background hue on Barrelhead Sugar-Free Root Beer cans to beige from blue, people swore it tasted more like old–fashioned root beer served in frosty mugs. No matter that the beverage itself remained exactly the same. Similarly, consumers ascribe a sweeter taste to orange drinks the darker the orange shade of the can or bottle.
It’s difficult to correlate color with product sales. But Berni claims that when it changed Canada Dry’s sugar–free ginger ale can to green and white from red, sales shot up more than 25 percent. The red can had sent a misleading cola message to consumers.
—The Wall Street Journal On Marketing / Ronald Alsop, Bill Abrams, p143. (Homewood, Ill. : Dow Jones–Irwin, c1986.)
Graphic design applied to technology has become a powderkeg issue. Creatives often shun usability metrics or other measurement. And more than one usability guru has been accused of having a “tin eye” when it comes to graphic design. Both sides miss more interesting ideas for using color.
Psychology plays some part in every tactical advantage. One medical equipment manufacturer found color useful (replacing bar codes, scanners, database queries) for quickly identifying which department a borrowed device needed to be returned to. Applied to web design, color psychology could offer a thermal map; an informative alternative to featureless blog calendars of archived entries. Indicating to users where writing produced a range of comments, color provides the user psychology of signaling information. (What information design calls information scent).
There are dozens of tutorials which equate blue to calm corporate competence. When have you seen a web widget suggesting a range of ties — from conservative to adventurous color pallet — for that dress shirt your’re considering online? Such accessory suggestions at the right time can increase orders by supporting the psychology behind the shopping process.
Notice the distinction here; color supports shopping psychology or color supports user psychology. There is an identified human psychology at the other end of the color choice.
Color Psychology Isn’t Color Astrology
Sites like Etsy.com do just that, supporting user psychology with a shop–by–color feature. You may want a purchase to fit your interior or complete an outfit. While many sites only support the purchase transaction at the end, Etsy supports shopping psychology. A far cry from those ‘color astrology’ charts. Me–too color schemes evoke one emotion more than others —Boredom.
Culture, the user, competitors, the situation — whether a color evokes a positive or negative emotion is as dependent on context as color in isolation. Far too often people are turning to those color = emotion charts the way some use newspaper horoscopes.
A range of studies show casinos how to direct your gaze, and hospitals how people find their way using color. A paper titled The Impact of Color on Learning by Kathie Engelbrecht suggests color psychology can improve focus and relieve eye fatigue in the classroom. Color can instruct and reduce accidents in the workplace, but only when applied to human psychology. Clearly color psychology is more sophisticated than color charts make it out to be.
When the color green was taboo in food packaging, Snackwells and Healthy Choice questioned dogma and created an identity. And in product design the color yellow can underscore a design for a flashlight or electronic device has been ruggedized, and so can take some rough use.
Judging from the software and instruction in its use, information has little place in the graphic designer’s toolkit. Which makes information all the more valuable for developing a competitive design portfolio and a style clients can appreciate.
- The Cymbolism site “…attempts to quantify the association between colors and words, making it simple for designers to choose the best colors for the desired emotional effect.”
- An interesting article about applied psychology going beyond Syntax Highlighting (coloring code in the interface to assist the user who is a programmer).
- DESIGNING A COLOR GRAPHICS PAGE (CHECKLIST) how to establish an urgency hierarchy and guide user attention using color.
- Colour Assignment has a study of favorite color by age and gender.
- A marketing case study of color psychology in the M&M’s “Great Color Quest” promotion. Color was removed from product packaging in order to draw attention to an established brand.
- The Effect of Color and Flavor Names on Consumer Choice; by Elizabeth G. Miller Boston College and Barbara Kahn University of Pennsylvania “We demonstrate that the type of color name matters and that color names impact product decisions due to both the name’s novelty and its lack of specificity.”
- The Red Queen Color Theory provides some innovative advice on selecting a web site color scheme. Includes some suggestions for understanding context and unusual tools for developing color judgement, not just formulas.
- Ask a graphic designer what color your firetruck should be and the answer is likely to be red. Human factors and ergonomics research discovers lime–yellow rescue vehicles involved in fewer accidents.
- Fireclick and Bluefly both report changing to a white background changed the perception of web page load speed. Waiting for the Web: How Screen Color Affects Time Perception (PDF file) provides some research background. Another unrelated study finds a wide variety of cultural associations based on color. Translating a site to another language may also mean considering cultural contexts like color associations.
- Information work in logo design. 1.Select that original shade of blue; 2. Select that creatively unique spiral or maybe a swoosh; 3. Let the information work begin.
- In 1976 NBC adopts the stylized N logo, only to find Nebraska public TV station NETV had designed something similar. Even in today’s connected world, the psychology of seeking individuality often yields similar results. Sometimes information work means studying trends in order to differentiate from the background noise of competition.
- A backgrounder on color psychology And then there is Color Matters. Other issues may be addressed by Safe Web Colours for colour–deficient vision, a page which also links to the PDF file The eye of the beholder – designing for colour-blind users. A fairly in depth study, Readability Of Websites With Various Foreground/Background Color Combinations, Font Types And Word Styles has results with few surprises.
- EasyRGB allows you to translate RBG; for paint, print or any time you have to get what’s on the computer into the real world.
- Roll out the bad carpet explains why casino carpeting is so gaudy. A PDF The Impact of Color on Learning by Kathie Engelbrecht explains color psychology in the learning environment.
- SAP Interface Color Usage Guide is one component of the collaboration of Frog industrial design and SAP on the Enjoy Design Language guidelines. This seems to be a conscious effort to address usability and desirability issues using color psychology.
- Few arenas are so psychological as what is known as The Color Mafia and the trend setting pronouncements/forecasts they make.