When it comes to choosing colours for your design project, it seems pretty daunting at first. You can spend hours and hours searching and scrolling through hundreds of colour palettes available online.
We have experienced this personally and based on our learnings, we share some of the proven ways with which you can ace your colour game.
Why Colours Matter?
Colour is the element closest to the client and audience’s subjective identity. A study conducted by The Institute for colour Research found that 90% of the judgments that people make about content is related to the colours.
When it comes to making purchase decisions, 85% of people buy based on colour. Research shows that the proper use of colour increases brand recognition by 80%. It also raises the visual appearance by 93%.
So, choosing the right colours for your next design project may prove to be a game-changer. So before beginning, let debunk some popular myths about colours.
Two Common Myths About Colours
1. Some colours are ugly, some are beautiful
It is not really about the colour itself but it is about the correct application of the colour. Some colours may look ugly but when paired with other colours in the right setting, they bring out outstanding results.
2. You can recognize individual colours
We don’t see colours, we see colour differences. Which makes it quite hard, if not impossible to recognize individual colours. Another mind-boggling fact is: We don’t actually have a preference for colours, but only for colour combinations.
In simpler words, We only perceive colours by virtue of their contrast with other colours. We see red by virtue of green. We see white by virtue of black.
Colours and Their Common Associations
The human eye and brain experience colour physically, mentally and emotionally. As a result, colours themselves have meanings. Let’s look at what each of the most commonly used colours stands for in general:
Red symbolizes power. It gets the user’s attention and it holds it, which is why it is predominantly used in Call to Action (CTA) buttons.
Positive Associations: Passion, Love, energy, enthusiasm, excitement
Negative Associations: Anger, Aggression, Battle, Cruelty
The blue colour is considered trustworthy and cool. You can mix blue with complementary colours for the best results.
Positive Associations: Knowledge, Calm, Peace, Masculinity, Loyalty, Justice
Negative Associations: Coldness, Detachment, Apathy, Depression
Yellow is a powerful colour, but it needs to be handled with care. You can use yellow to draw your user’s attention and let them know you’re confident in your abilities.
Positive Associations: Intellect, Wisdom, Optimism, Radiance, Joy, Idealism
Negative Associations: Jealousy, Cowardice, Deceit, Caution
Green is a versatile colour. It is equally used by technology companies, business and finance professionals, organic product sellers and health practitioners.
Positive Associations: Fertility, Money, Growth, Healing, Success, Nature, Harmony, Honesty, Youth
Negative Associations: Greed, Envy, Nausea, Toxicity, Corrosion, Inexperience
Orange is energy. It has powerful attention-getting properties, it’s fun and cool, and it makes customers feel as though they’re dealing with a cutting-edge company.
Positive Associations: Creativity, Invigoration, Uniqueness, Energy, Vibrancy, Sociability, Stimulation
Negative Associations: Loudness, Trendiness, Crassness
Purple is the colour of royalty, which makes it perfect for businesses who want to project themselves as elegant and offer luxury services.
Positive Associations: Luxury, Wisdom, Imagination, Sophistication, Inspiration, Wealth, Nobility, Mysticism
Negative Associations: Exaggeration, Madness, Cruelty
Gold is likewise elegant and prestigious but adds an element of power purple can’t match. In combination with purple or green, gold is a powerful colour that symbolizes wealth and pedigree.
Positive Associations: Luxury, Wealth, Dominance, Elegance
Negative Associations: Jealousy, Materialism, Capitalism
White is the symbol of purity and light. It is mostly used background colour in almost all websites and apps. White indicates spaciousness and serenity.
Positive Associations: Perfection, Cleanliness, Virtue, Innocence, Softness, Simplicity, Truth
Negative Associations: Surrender, Fragility, Isolation
Black is another highly versatile colour. It can be modern or traditional, exciting or relaxing. Used as a contrasting colour, black most often adds drama to whatever mood you want to cast.
Positive Associations: Power, Authority, Elegance, Formality, Seriousness, Dignity, Mystery, Style
Negative Associations: Fear. Negativity, Evil, Secrecy, Mourning, Remorse, Emptiness
Gray is a natural colour and is often used as a complementary colour to support the overall colour design system.
Positive Associations: Balance, Security, Modesty, Classicism, Maturity, Reliability
Negative Associations: Boredom, Old Age, Indecision, Sadness, Lack of Commitment
This colour symbolism is often a cultural agreement. The opinions about these associations are varied and sometimes conflicting. Be sure to investigate a particular colour’s meanings and associations before using it in a design project.
6 Ways to Choose the Right Colours
1. Knowing the target audience
2. Balance clarity and contrast
3. Knowing the industry
4. Differentiate from competition
5. Consider the context
6. Amplify brand’s unique personality
1. Knowing the target audience
First and foremost, before beginning with any design project you should think about your target market. Your target audience – the user, has specific reactions to colours. It all depends on age, gender, culture and nationality.
Age: Red, Yellow for Kids, Blue for Adults
Let’s say that you are designing a mobile app for young children. But you are marketing it to their parents. It would be wise to design the app in bright, primary colours (reds, blues, yellows) to appeal to the children.
However, its marketing collaterals (website, social media ads, etc.) would be designed keeping parents in mind. In that case, you may choose to go with blues (trust, reliability), pinks (nurture, sweet, security) and yellow (happy, playful).
Gender: Blue is equally loved by men and women
When it comes to gender, men seem to prefer bold colours while women prefer softer colours.
A study conducted by Kissmetrics found that, while blue is the favourite colour of both male-identified and female-identified people, 57 per cent of men prefer it while just 35 per cent of women do. The second favourite colour for men was green while women preferred purple.
Culture: Region and Values Dominate
People tend to project their qualities or characteristics in their preference of colours. Culture is also one of the reasons why some colours are preferred more than others. For example, pink and peach colours were not always considered feminine colours.
In some countries, bright colours may look “cheap” to some adults but are greatly appreciated in other parts of the world where the culture associate these colours with positive projections.
For example, white is the colour of death in Chinese culture. Purple represents death in Brazil. Yellow is sacred to the Chinese but signifies sadness in Greece and jealousy in France. In North America, green is typically associated with jealousy. People from tropical countries respond most favourably to warm colours; people from northern climates prefer cooler colours.
Knowing what your target market wants to “project” and identify with, and what is the history of colours for that cultural group will already give you good clues on what colours to use.
2. Balance Clarity and Contrast
The right colours ensure that your visual content is legible. This means you should pair colours that are relatively high-contrast.
If your target audience is older — for example, if you sell counselling services to senior citizens — thinking about accessibility when choosing colours for your website becomes even more important. Even though a grey-on-white design may look attractive to younger eyes, the elderly may struggle to read.
To achieve this, you may use an assessment tool to determine whether the colours you’re using — and how you’re pairing them — provides enough contrast to make your information accessible to someone with a visual impairment, young or old.
3. Knowing the industry
Depending upon the nature of the market and industry, the use of colour changes.
Orange is a colour that we associate with light and the sun. It communicates warmth and connection. For this reason, B2C brands that want to avoid a “corporate” look and feel – from Amazon and Harley Davidson to Nickelodeon and Penguin books – opt for orange. Similar psychology underlies the colour yellow.
Blue, meanwhile has a calming effect, which is why it invokes wisdom, strength, and trust. This is why it’s employed in so many B2B contexts. However, it’s equally effective for brands in which you may be entrusting your money or your health. You want to know that you can trust companies such as Volkswagen, Pfizer, Visa, Nivea, and PayPal with your future well-being.
4. Differentiating from competition
If you are starting out with your next design project, chances are you have studied everything your client’s business as well as their competitors.
Ideally, the client would want you to use different colours schemes from what their competitors are already using. Take Zomato vs. Swiggy for example. Zomato predominantly uses a red colour scheme, while Swiggy uses an orange colour scheme. Using a different colour scheme helps your client’s business to create a distinct image in the market.
5. Consider the Context
Colour is always seen in context. Sometimes that context is proximity to another colour, which alters its meaning or even the perception of the colour itself. At other times the context is the environment surrounding the colour—for example, the white of a page or the physical environment as a whole.
The perception of colour is always shifting, never fixed. All colours appear more brilliant when set against a black background. Conversely, they seem a bit duller on a white background. Complementary colours make each other appear brighter, yet the effect on the brain, when taken in total, is a balanced neutral grey. Certain colour triadic schemes seem more garish or more sophisticated, more lively, or more sedate.
6. Amplify your unique personality
Usually, colours are based on the brand personality, which the client wants to project it to their target audience. In general, a brand colour palette that aligns with its users’ expectations is received much better by its target audience.
Brands can sometimes cross between two traits, but they are mostly dominated by one. While certain colours do broadly align with specific traits (e.g., brown with ruggedness, purple with sophistication, and red with excitement), nearly every academic study on colours and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for colours to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical colour associations.
Colour provides strong visual statements that communicate our client’s messages. Each colour that we use convey both tone and meaning; which is essential to affect the audience’s judgements and reactions. It is not simply a decorative afterthought and should be leveraged to its fullest extent.
Colours are the fundamental elements of visual design. It has a significant impact on improving the UX of your website.
There is no “one colour fits all” solution for success. Hence, you should always test your design colours on a small target user segment before rolling out for all the target users or for the general public.
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