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.

calendar archive showing color dots

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 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. shop by color interface design

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.

kitchen configurator

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.