We often take for granted how strongly color affects us on a daily basis. Look out the window right now and notice how you feel — a blue sky might make you feel upbeat, whereas a gray sky might have you a bit down. Or if you’re looking at a nighttime sky, maybe you feel ready to stop working and relax. Learn about color psychology to discover how to use the relationship between colors and emotions to your advantage when promoting your brand.
Color psychology is the study of the relationship between colors and emotions. This field of study examines the relationship between color and mood, action, feelings, and other psychological reactions. Color psychology can put the human experience behind your color choices, helping you select the shades that may influence how your clients and customers feel about your company or product.
Colors and their corresponding emotions are often placed along three different spectrums to describe their effects. They are:
The key to how colors represent emotions is that warmth and coolness often dictate a color’s other properties. If you look at the above three axes of colors and the emotions they represent, you’ll see that warm colors are generally happy and energizing. Likewise, you’ll notice that cool colors are typically calming. These color and emotion connections can play a huge part in how your logo and branding affect your target audience.
Try an exercise for a second: Think about the first logos that come to mind. Chances are that these logos all have some set of colors, not just black and white. Can you imagine the Dunkin’ Donuts logo without its iconic orange? That’s an intentional choice. The branding consultants who often help companies come up with their logos use colors based on how they affect emotions and thus purchasing decisions.
As you work on your rebranding or redesign, you should likewise understand colors, emotions, and their meanings. Below is a list of several colors and their psychology.
Red is often perceived as energizing and exciting. It can also impart feelings of power, passion, and desire — think of all those red Valentine’s Day cards and gifts. Notably, passion and desire can be relaxing instead of exciting, making red an incredibly versatile color for emotions.
A great example of this logo psychology in action comes from Target. For its Valentine’s Day advertising, the brand often pairs its instantly recognizable red bullseye logo with other romantic reds such as roses and chocolate boxes. As a result, people seeing the ad might feel that Target can properly evoke the romance for which the occasion calls.
In some contexts, such as on the road, red can impart danger in the form of stop lights or caution signs. Red can also appear aggressive, perhaps because someone with a flush, red face is often angry. It’s also associated with health, as red is the color of blood and it’s the color associated with hearts.
Because red is tied to some of these innate human emotions, it can elicit a strong reaction in people. An energetic and bold red may lead some people to take action. It is also often cited that fast food brands like McDonald’s and KFC use red in their logos because it may stimulate hunger, another natural human reaction.
As a mix between red and yellow, both of which have strong emotions tied to them, orange can impart strong emotions as well. Darker orange colors are visually closer to red, so they can impart the aggressive feelings sometimes associated with red. Brighter orange colors are as glaring as yellow, so these hues will almost certainly feel energizing. Bright orange also looks a good deal like sunlight, so if your company is a seasonal summertime operation, try orange in your branding.
As hinted at earlier, yellow is often a high-energy color. However, it doesn’t have to be overstimulating like a highlighter.
In duller shades, yellow can be cheery and inviting rather than so intense as to be off-putting. Used carefully, softer yellow hues in your logo can be uplifting instead of jarring. Most importantly, don’t use yellow against white backgrounds — you’ve probably seen how this looks in your word processor of choice, and it makes graphics and text hard to decipher.
Green is all around us in nature — think of all the grass and trees you see every day — so it can often feel comforting. One study has correlated green with an evolutionarily inherited sense of shelter and safety.
Since green is the color of “go” lights when we drive, we may also subconsciously find it motivating and encouraging. It’s generally seen as a positive color, though darker greens in logos can be so comforting they dull action on the customer’s part.
An interesting example of green’s many effects is the Starbucks logo. Its green color may inspire customers who visit the coffee mega-chain to crack open their laptops and power through work.
In terms of colors describing emotions, “blue” is perhaps the leader of the pack. You might say you’re feeling blue if your sadness is sapping your motivation, and there’s a whole genre of forlorn love songs called the blues. This melancholy, though, isn’t the only way blue can make people feel.
Blue is often seen as a stable, tranquil color. It may also connote security, which is why so many tech and communications companies use blue in their logos. Blue can even have physiological effects: One study found that blue lighting accelerates post-stress relaxation. Other studies have suggested that blue objects or lighting can lower your blood pressure.
Purple can often activate your creativity and deepest emotions. Although darker purple hues are known to feel sad, lighter purple hues such as lavender and lilac are associated with whimsy. This capricious feeling can help stimulate creativity in some people, so if your products can help people access their most artful selves, try some light purple in your logo.
White is a neutral color, and scientifically speaking, it’s what we see when an object absorbs no light waves whatsoever. That might be why white hues are sometimes associated with emptiness.
On the other hand, since white’s lack of color absorption makes a great backdrop for myriad other colors, it can often appear clean — sometimes too clean. The white walls that dominate hospitals, which are notorious for looking bad, often impart a sense of sterility that veers on unwelcoming. Suffice it to say that a predominantly white logo might appear too glaring for your needs.
Like white, black is a neutral color, but unlike white, black is the absorption of all colors. It’s also the color with perhaps the most obvious psychology: Black is the color of funerals, death, and all things grim. However, this isn’t black’s only emotional impact.
Since black is the most common men’s formalwear color, it can appear elegant. When contrasted with white, it can also appear clean and classic — think of Vans’ logo and its instantly recognizable black-and-white skate shoes. It’s also a color that matches with just about any other color, except for navy or other dark purple hues. So don’t use it alone in your logo, but do feel free to give it a supporting role.
Gray is what you get when you mix black and white, so it boasts qualities of each. Like white, gray is often neutral and comforting. It can evoke the tranquility of a slow morning on a rainy day. However, like black, it can represent dreadful, deadly feelings.
How gray impacts your emotions will depend largely on the other colors surrounding it. If you use it to tamper bright colors, it can bring balance to your visuals. Combined with darker colors, it can reinforce these hues’ effects. Perhaps more than any other color, you should use gray to emphasize what’s already there rather than building from scratch.
Lighter shades of brown are often perceived as romantic and comforting, but you’ll need to strike a fine balance of brown use no matter your hue of choice. Among all the colors, brown is likeliest to have its negative effects overtake its positive ones when used in large quantities. And those negative emotions include sadness and emptiness, neither of which is particularly great for sales.
Experiments have correlated pink with calming effects, even in the most aggressive of people. This discovery is the crux of the 2014 book Drunk Tank Pink, in which author Adam Alter points to three experiments that suggest the soothing power of pink.
In the first experiment, people who were incarcerated and behaving violently often calmed down more quickly in rooms with walls painted pink. In the second, several buses with seats painted pink proved less susceptible to vandalism than other buses. And in the third — which is the most relevant to your logo needs — charities that used pink in their visual materials received more donations.
At this point, you’ve learned plenty about how colors might affect your emotions, but there may be some exceptions to these conceptions. Keep these three important caveats in mind while designing your logo:
Presumably, you want your logo to be memorable and appealing to as many people as possible. That’s why tools like Namecheap’s free logo maker allow you to slowly work your way through every step of the design process. With this free tool and the above color psychology tips, you can make your logo all the more likely to impact people exactly how you intend.