You’ve heard that first impressions count, right?

A study by the University of Winnipeg in Canada found that most people develop their opinion of a brand or product within the first 90 seconds. But here comes the kicker – up to 90% of these perceptions are based completely on colour.

Colour can evoke emotion, soothe, dredge up memories – and even increase your pulse.

“Colour is an essential tool because it has an impact on how we think and behave,” says CoSchedule designer and creative stylist Ashton Hauff.

“Colour directs our eye where to look, what to do, and how to interpret something. It puts content into context. It helps us decide what’s important and what’s not.”

ThirstCreative director Ben Harbinson agrees. “Colours always come with an association – positive or negative.”  

These associations change depending on the context, he adds. “Personal experience, culture, time period, location and gender will all have an effect on an individual’s interpretation of certain colours.”

When making your choice, it’s super useful to dive into the psychology behind various colours and ask yourself: “How is this choice likely to make my customers feel?”

It might sound tricky, but fear not – you don’t need a psychology degree to get this right! If you have a clear idea of your brand identity and the message you want to send, choosing your brand colours doesn’t have to be a headache.

Here’s a breakdown of several colour options and the feelings they’re likely to evoke, to help make this important decision much easier for you.

Red

As one of the most powerful colours, red often appears to be closer to the viewer than it actually is – so it’ll grab your attention first. Physically, it actually stimulates and raises the pulse. As such, it’s seen as commanding, authoritative, energising and lively, according to Colour Affects. At the same time, it can be perceived as demanding and aggressive – so it’s often best to use sparingly. 

Orange

As a mix of yellow and red, orange evokes the emotions of its base colours: power and energy combined with friendliness and fun. It also turns the mind to thoughts of physical comfort, like warmth, shelter, food – it can even stimulate appetite.

Yellow

The happiest colour on the spectrum, yellow means optimism, cheerfulness and friendliness. It’s also been known to motivate, inspire confidence and lift self-esteem. Yellow has a particularly long wavelength, making it one of the easiest colours to visibly see, according to CoSchedule. Fun fact: yellow is the first colour babies respond to.

Green

There’s a reason those accents in the décor at your favourite yoga studio are green. This colour means peace, harmony and tranquillity. There’s some cool science behind this too: green strikes the eye in such a way that the eye does not need to adjust itself to see it, which is why it feels so restful. It’s also a symbol of growth, be it the physical growth of plants or growth of wealth.   

Blue

Unlike red, which affects us physically, blue affects the mind. According to Colour Affects, strong blues encourage clear thought, while soft blues still the mind and help with concentration. It’s the colour of trust, reliability and calm – no surprises then that it’s one of the most-liked colours in the world.

Purple

Purple stimulates a combination of red’s energy and power and blue’s calm and stability, making it the perfect balance of the physical and spiritual. It’s the colour of imagination, and often used to show luxury, loyalty, courage, mystery, and magic. Harbinson cites Cadbury’s branding as a great use of purple. “It reinforces Cadbury’s archetype, keeping their customers loyal to a brand that embodies those particular values of humour, joy and a little bit of luxury.”

Pink

As a softer version of passionate red, pink symbolises the idea of unconditional, compassionate love. “While it’s a very physical colour, it soothes rather than stimulates,” says Hauff, “making it a perfect colour for caring, understanding, and nurturing those in need.” It also symbolises femininity – which is why the use of too much tends to be emasculating.

A few more nifty tips

  • Less is more!

“So many people go overboard with colour,” Big Brand System founder Pamela Wilson says. “Rather than develop a recognisable set of colours that people will associate with their brand, they add colour with no restraint at all. They dilute colour’s power.”

So as a rule of thumb, remember most big brands use two or three colours in their design. The optimal formula, according to US design marketing consultant Dustin Stout, is two primary colours and one accent colour that pops against the other two.

  • Pick a proper palette

Luckily for those without graphic designers on speed dial, there are plenty of useful tools to help you make sure your colours complement each other.

ColorLovers, a curated database of a plethora of beautiful colour palettes, is a great place to start.

Adobe Kuler is also pretty useful – and fun to play with.

If it’s an app you’re after, Coolor is an easy-to-use tool that will churn out colour schemes for you.

Dig a little deeper…

Want to get down to the nitty gritty of design and branding for best results? Friends of Design has plenty of courses, both full and part-time, that will help you unleash your inner designer.

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