color association, what yellow means, what red means, what blue means

The Psychology of Color: Part I

Published: 08/11/2014

In this week's graphic design post, we will be discussing the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, and some of the psychological properties they have.

Before we get into that, we should first define that we will be discussing the primary colors of pigment rather than the primary colors of light. What's the difference, you might ask? If you were to take red, green, and blue pigment and combine them, you would get a muddy brown mess. If you were to shine a red spotlight, followed by a green light, followed by a blue light, you would end up with a white light (kind of how your computer monitor works); however, we will get into the physics of light in a later design chapter.

Now, on to the psychology of color. The psychological perception of color is based on an individual's experiences but is somewhat regional as well. In Western culture, white is the color of cleanliness and purity. In some Eastern cultures like China, white is often associated with mourning. However, we are not here to talk about white. Let's start with red.

Red. Red is the color of beauty, passion, romance, strength, and power, but also danger. Red can also be used to evoke a physical response. Red has been shown to increase energy - place your treadmill in front of a red wall and you will feel invigorated. But be careful, because too much red could just make you angry. If you were to make a list of things you see every day that are red, it could run the gambit of emotions from what you feel when you think of strawberries to what you feel when you think about a fire engine. In marketing, red is most often associated with attention. Often times a call to action like "click here" or "call today" and sometimes even arrows to point out specific things are done in red because it is such an attention grabber. However, in dental marketing, red can often be associated with blood; to help us avoid odontophobia, we usually will omit that from a graphic design unless a practice has incorporated it into their logo or practice identity.

Blue. Blue is the color of loyalty, trustworthiness, and integrity, and internationally it is the color of money (as opposed to green here in the US), but it is also the color of sadness and loneliness. Blue even has calming and rejuvenating properties. Nurseries are sometimes painted blue not just for boys, but also to promote healing. Blue light can be used to aid in the treatment of jaundice babies as well. In addition, blue is an appetite suppressant. Place a blue light bulb in your refrigerator, and suddenly that chocolate cake doesn't look so appealing. It can be used to invoke a clinical or corporate feeling in the case of a website but can also be combined with earth tones for more of a warm, organic feel. Most medical and quite a few dental websites use blue for both of these reasons.

Yellow. Yellow is playful, optimistic, and often seen as the color of wisdom. Even though people refer to the green-eyed monster, yellow is also seen as the color of jealousy. Yellow can be cautionary; in nature, bees and hornets are yellow as a warning to ward off predators. Construction equipment is yellow, not just for its high visibility and cautionary psychology, but because yellow paint was originally less expensive (not so much now). Yellow, in its bright and vivid hue, is most often used in pediatric website designs. While other practices may incorporate it into their logo or identity, it is more often muted if used in the rest of the website's design, used instead as a cream or light beige rather than in its full, vivid spectrum. While yellow can be used to gather attention, most of the time it takes second seat to red or orange.

Remember that although we have covered some of the generalities of these three colors, the psychology of color is based on an individual's own experiences. When using any color, it is best to not only have a good grasp of what it means to you and your practice, but also what effects it may have on your target audience. Next month, we move on to the secondary colors of green, orange, and purple.


Author: Marc Steffensen
Position: Creative Director
Marc is the Creative Director at Business Promotion and has been with the company since 2009. He has been a professional graphic designer since 2005 and a graphic artist since the mid 90s. Marc's interests are eclectic within all things "nerd" culture, from music and movies to games and collectables. He is an amateur barbeque chef and likes to "fire up" his smoker, even in the middle of winter.

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