October 2, 2013

How color can influence your audience

Color Blocks

Color Blocks

So, I’m driving along an unfamiliar country road enjoying the scenery when I approach a crossroads with a red octagonal sign but no words. What’s a guy to do? Instinct tells me to take my foot off the gas and come to a stop. This may seem like a no-brainer but there’s a reason for my actions. Is it the sign’s octagonal shape? Maybe. But more than likely it’s the sign’s color. Since prehistoric times, red has been associated with blood and fire. So, naturally, this guy decided to stop.

In marketing

Colors affect each of us in so many ways. Colors can even reveal your personality or mood, and yet most of us are unaware of their influence in our lives — or of the subtle ways we use them. In marketing, for example, it’s valuable to know how colors resonate with your target audience. As a marketing communications designer, I’m constantly involved with color and color decisions: How do we make this poster “edgy”? Can this brochure be more “corporate?” What will make you look at this billboard and grasp its message — all in 2.3 seconds? Just as the red of the unmarked sign alerts us to the possibility of imminent danger, there are other colors that can influence in other ways, even physiologically.

In design

In logo design, I generally try to use color to structure the visual order of the mark. Dominant elements require bold attention-grabbing colors; secondary elements less so. The trick is to combine these contrasting groups into a visually pleasing design. There are tried-and-true color combinations that are used in logo design because of their associations to certain characteristics.

In painting

Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands

As a fine artist, I use colors to create form, space and visual hierarchy in my paintings (see above) to let the viewer experience a particular moment in time. Well, at least that’s what I strive towards. In painting, color temperature is used to establish visual importance. I generally, but not exclusively, use warm colors in the foreground and cooler colors in the background. Colors that contrast tend to attract the eyes, usually near the painting’s focal point or center of interest. Muted colors tend to blend together and then recede in space and establishes its background.

With all the colors there are, multiplied by infinite color combinations, it’s no wonder that color is ever-present but not nearly close to being understood. I guess that’s why I find color so amazing. So the next time you see a painting or display of color — whether it’s a road sign, a billboard or a particularly arresting outfit on a passerby — take a moment to think about the response that color evoked in you. You might be surprised what it tells you about yourself.

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  • Nancy

    Fascinating post! I have done work in the dental industry, where the color red is NEVER used (for equipment, supplies, or even for logos or brochures) because of its association with blood. In other industries, they use color to create an association (green for environmental, for example).

  • Gazalla Gaya

    I love this post. As a marketer I know that colors have an impact on our target audience. In interior design, I’ve heard that red or orange are inviting colors for dining rooms and green is good for bedrooms because of it’s calming and restful qualities. It’s fascinating how different disciplines use color to physiologically affect the buyer.

  • Emory Au

    Agreed. And there are many reds that can influence its connotation as well. Reds, as any color, can be cool or warm depending on adjacent colors or backgrounds or even by its proportions. Thanks for your comments.

  • Emory Au

    Some studies have shown that red in dining rooms or restaurants have been known to increase hunger responses which is why it’s a popular color in eateries. Greens are associated with nature and environment which is considered soothing. Thanks for your comment.

  • Skipper

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is present is the tree green?

  • Emory Au

    There is research being done to address that very issue. Excellent question.