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  • Writer's pictureAbhijit J K

How to Use the Psychology of Colour

Colour is an essential factor of visual perception. It stimulates both the rational and emotional aspects of our minds. Thus colour plays a significant role in brand marketing and product design because of its versatile ubiquity. Colour can be used to guide the user’s attention through the intended user experience and to modulate the user’s emotions during the process.

It is here that colour shines brightly. For even when the shape and size of an object are distant and ill-defined, it’s the colour will still be very visible and create the first impetus of attraction.

Brand Personality

We as individuals view the world through anthropomorphic lenses - which means that from our perspective we attribute a human personality to every object, no matter how lifeless. For example, a small water bottle is cute and cheerful while a large, thick bottle is strong and dependable. We do this subconsciously to most things that come to our attention and we make an instinctive emotional judgement about the thing, on this basis.

In 1997, this term was officially attributed to brands to create a brand personality, which refers to the human characteristics that the brand’s organization displays. It then goes without saying that the colours involved in the brand’s logo, marketing promotions and products all play a significant role in developing the personality of the brand.

Colour in a brand logo can be used as a marker of the nature of the product or service in case of a large and diverse customer base. For example, a petroleum company or home decor or digital solutions can reflect their brand credo by showcasing the personality of their products as a whole. Like Shell’s bright yellow and red is energetic like their oil, or IKEA’s blue and yellow promises stability and openness or Microsoft’s multicoloured logo illustrating their diversity of products.

This kind of usage of colour provides a ready template for a brand’s identity. And when used consistently in advertisement campaigns, information displays and interfaces, colour schemes can create a significant subliminal memory in the viewer’s mind. Such that he can immediately recognise a brand even from a display fragment taken out of context.

User Emotions

This role of colour in brand identity comes from a yet deeper aspect of colour in influencing the user’s mind. Colours invoke primal emotions within us reflecting the stereotypes of that colour in nature. For example, the dark blue of the vast and deep ocean or the light blue of the clear sky. Verdant greens of dense, lush forests or the lively openness of sunny green fields. The delicious red, orange or yellow fruit or a dangerous pattern of dark and warm colours on a snake.

The power of these natural colour codes can be harnessed effectively to create a specific emotional milieu for the user. Colours can be chosen to compile a palette of emotions compatible with brand identity. This can then be used contextually to prepare the emotional background of the user or reader and thus influence the reception of information or interactions. For example, a food brand should only limit itself to warm colours to stimulate appetites, but can also use light greens and blues to highlight the freshness of veggies and seafood.

Nostalgia or sentimental associations of past memories can also be provoked by colour combinations. This leverages the impact of a past campaign that was enormously successful. For example, patterned red and white evoke a happy and playful emotion because of its association with typical Christmas sweets and decorations - this is used successfully by Hamleys Toys and the Lego logo. This is especially useful to create branding for young adults to provoke reminiscence of their childhood brands.


Colour is also an important component of the information hierarchy. Colour varieties are present not only in hues but also in its saturation and lightness. These variances allow the creation of different gradients of contrast and can be used consistently to prioritise information in the context of their native layout.

Colour composition of interfaces and websites are vital to not only highlight important text and graphics but also to categorize and tabulate the contents. The background colour becomes important here because it defines the feel of the negative space that separates the focused contents. For example, light background of a menu of dark items makes the items more distinct and separated than if the background and item colours are less contrasted.

UX Design

All these various practices of colour usage are employed in crafting a good user experience. A good UX design has to account for the correct sequence of the progress of a user through an interactive or informative process. Consistent colour coding using various colour shades can implement a hierarchical highlighting scheme which along with the contents can guide the user efficiently.

But a good UX will also incite the user into taking desirable actions based on their emotional bearings during the experience. This can be designed by creating a gradual tension curve dotted with emotionally intense peaks followed by relaxing spaces throughout the content. For example, a solid colour space between two clusters of information gives the downtime to absorb the previous content. While a background colour transition before introducing new information can create an expectation or curiosity for the next content. The payoff to such a carefully crafted tension curve can be easily realised through highlighting the call to action at an emotionally climactic moment.

Though it has some accessibility problems (like colour blindness) which should be kept in mind, colour usage is a powerful tool to create brand identity and UX design. It can consistently attract a large user base over an international domain and can increase the margin of returning customers.

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