A Beginner's Guide to Color Psychology

A Beginner's Guide to Color Psychology

Marina Yalanska
June 18, 2020
10 min read
Easy

Every day, tons of things and factors affect our mood, attitudes, choices, and decisions. For most people, color is one of the most powerful of them. It evokes human emotions instantly and builds strong associations faster than we can realize it. It's no wonder that designers have to explore how this magic works to make interfaces, both functional and emotional. To support the block of color studies in Uxcel, in this article, we welcome you to review the basics of color psychology and its impact on user behavior.

What Is Color Psychology?

Color psychology is the study of how colors affect our emotions and behaviors. As soon as we perceive color, our brain and endocrine system (the hormone producer) receive the input, releasing hormones throughout our body. As a result, this subconscious interaction has a powerful impact on our emotions.

The Institute for Color Research found that people make a subconscious judgment about an object, person, or environment within 90 seconds of initial viewing. Additionally, an incredible 62% to 90% of that assessment is based only on color. As a result, designers must study and understand the psychology behind colors in UX/UI design.

While color theory helps designers understand the nature of colors and to create harmonic color combinations, color psychology dives into our minds and emotions. Additionally, colors can not only catch users’ attention but also hold it for much longer than black and white visuals. As a result, colors increase the lasting memorability of UX/UI design.

Basic Principles of Color Psychology

Color psychology contains six fundamental principles:

  1. Color has a meaning.
  2. Color meaning is based on biological and environmental experiences.
  3. Color perception automatically triggers human evaluation.
  4. Color evaluation determines color-motivated behavior.
  5. Color exerts an influence.
  6. Color meaning and it's effect are determined by context.

By understanding these basic principles, designers can use them for specific business and social goals to increase usability.

Psychological Effects of Color

The human eye processes and decodes color in the blink of an eye, enabling designers to amplify visual hierarchy and draw attention to particular elements. That is why learning the psychology behind colors is an essential chapter in UX design education. Let’s review some color meanings, but note that these are typical of western cultures.

Red Color Psychology

Red is the first distinguishable color for babies. As one of the brightest daytime colors, it attracts a lot of attention. Red has quite a broad range of meanings, yet all of them are associated with power, energy, and strength. Depending on the context, it can be related to love and passion or anger and danger. As this color provokes high tension, too much of it may be tiring for eyes and even cause anxiety. Red should be applied wisely in your designs!

Netflix utilizing red color psychology in their design
from Netflix

Green Color Psychology

Green is strongly associated with nature; it's called a color of balance and harmony. This color is also connected to youth, growth, and renewing. Green is often applied in designs related to "green" topics:  ecology, sustainability, environmental protection, and healthy food.

Fiverr utilizing green color psychology in their design
from Fiverr

Blue Color Psychology

Blue is a color of trust and stability, often associated with reliability and competence. It is widely popular in business and banking software. However, when compared to warm colors, blue may seem more distant and unemotional.

Marvel utilizing blue color psychology in their design
from Marvel

Purple Color Psychology

For a long time, purple (or violet) was a rare pigment, so it became exclusive to the rich. That historical background made it strongly associated with luxury, royalty, and exclusiveness. It mixes the energy of red and the trustful balance of blue, but when applied too much, it can distract users.

Twitch utilizing purple color psychology in their design
from Twitch


Black Color Psychology

As with the color red, black has a broad range of meanings, from tragedy to mystery, from traditions to innovations. It is usually a perfect match for any color. It is useful in creating contrasts, so it is popular as a background color, especially for web and mobile interfaces based on visual content. Black is often connected to exclusivity and prestige.

Framer utilizing black color psychology in their design
from Framer


White Color Psychology

White traditionally transfers the meanings of innocence, purity, and clarity. It’s often associated with a blank sheet of paper or untouched canvas, engaging a person to generate new ideas. However, too much white can also result in such reactions as emptiness and loneliness. Popular as a background color, white adds space to interfaces and builds a solid foundation for readability.

Google utilizing white color psychology in their design
from Google


Grey Color Psychology

Grey is often on the cool end of the neutral color spectrum. Utilizing a variety of greytones in design allows for a sophisticated and elegant look, as it will allow other colors to stand out. Grey is also referred to as gray in American English.

Apple utilizing grey color psychology in their design
from Apple

Brown Color Psychology

Brown is associated with the earth and woods. Due to its natural origins, brown is perceived as a color of security, protection, comfort, and stability, and is often used as a background color.

M&M's utilizing brown color psychology in their design
from M&M's


Yellow Color Psychology

Yellow will forever be associated with the sun. It's the color of happiness, friendliness, and joy, and bring nature makes it inspiring. However, too much yellow can result in negative perception and make people feel fear.

Snapchat utilizing yellow color psychology in their design
from Snapchat


Orange Color Psychology

Orange is said to combine the power of red and the joyfulness of yellow, so it is an energetic and positive color. Orange is associated with motivation, cheerfulness, and enthusiasm. As well, it is often used in design to create emotions of fun and adventure.

Sketch utilizing orange color psychology in their design
from Sketch


Pink Color Psychology

Pink is a color of romance, sincerity, and sensitivity. Historically, it is gender-marked and strongly associated with youth, sophistication, and femininity. As a result, it is the color of choice in products and brands targeting girls and young women.

Invision utilizing pink color psychology in their design
from Invision


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Demographics

It's crucial to consider demographics when selecting colors. Color perception and psychology change depending on gender, age, and culture, so it's important to consider the demographics of your users.

Preferences by Gender

Gender plays a strong influence on color preference, so it's essential to know and understand differences. The Color Assignment research group conducted one of the most well-known studies, which I'll summerize below.

  • Cool colors > Warm colors.  Furthermore, both genders prefer blue, green, and their respective tints.
  • Blue is #1 for all genders. Both men and women selected blue as their preferred color. Women also show greater interest in different shades of blue - sapphire, cerulean, azure, beryl, and others.
  • Brown & orange aren't very popular. Brown is less popular with men whereas orange is the least popular with women.
  • Men love pure colors, women love tints.

Preferences by Age

The age of your target audience is also a factor in determining color choice. Children tend to like warm colors, such as yellow and orange. According to Color Psychology and Color Therapy, by Faber Birren, as people age, they prefer cooler colors over warm ones.

Additionally, children are more likely to change their color preferences, as their tastes are not well-defined, while adults stick much more to their favorite colors.


Preferences by Culture

Culture plays an essential influence on color preference, so when choosing your color scheme, make sure to consider this. Let's examine a few key findings below.

  • Blue is considered a masculine color in the west, but the Chinese perceive blue as a feminine color.
  • White represents death and bad luck in Chinese culture whereas orange is associated with good health.
  • Yellow symbolizes sanctity and commerce in Hinduism.
  • In Latin America, red symbolizes war and military, especially when combined with black.

Even these quick insights make it easy to see how important it is to define the target audience of the product and take it into account, choosing the colors.

Conclusion

Color psychology is a powerful tool for creating a positive user experience. It's the cherry on the cake to make a product genuinely shine and delight users. Whichever color scheme you choose, make sure to test it with your audience.

Learn more about colors and UX/UI design teachings with Uxcel and don’t miss new articles coming soon.