Basic rules and insights of colour psychology in graphic design

Colour is about much more than making something look nice. Companies all over the world use colour for a whole host of reasons. Take McDonald’s for example. By nature, the fast food restaurant wants its customers to come, order their food, eat it and leave within a half an hour window. So in order to create that atmosphere in its restaurants, it uses bright colours, sharp designs and harsh lighting in order to discourage people from loitering. On the flipside, restaurants and bars generally use tranquil colours, such as blues and greens, to encourage customers to stay and spend money buying additional drinks and food.

So what are the best colours for selling?

Well that all depends on what industry. However, the public is pre-programmed to trust recognised colours. eBay and Google for example both use a mix of primary colours in their logo. And incidentally, both are trusted websites that attract billions of visits per day. So it’s no wonder that other companies are adopting their colours in call to action buttons, headers and backgrounds to make them look more trustworthy.

Here’s a list of the most common colours, where they are used, and of course, why:

  • Yellow is optimistic and youthful. Used to grab people’s attention, it’s not a coincidence that some of the world’s most recognisable brands use yellow somewhere in their branding. We’re looking at you Google and eBay!
  • Red is also another eye catcher. Signalling energy, red increases heart rate and creates an urgency. Usually used in sales leaflets and signage, red is very much an ‘in the moment’ colour.
  • Blue is a calming colour that underlines trust and security within a brand. Often seen with banks – such as Barclays, and businesses like Tesco.
  • Green is the easiest colour for the eye to process. Used in shops to relax, it is often associated with wealth. Holland and Barrett use green in all their marketing materials in order to underline their ethos of creating a healthier population.
  • Orange, much like yellow, is an attention grabber. Much more aggressive than it’s lighter counterpart, orange is often used to highlight calls to action, subscriptions and buy or sell.
  • Pink is the romantic colour of the spectrum. Infinitely feminine, pink is used to sell to women and young girls. Johnson and Johnson, Cosmopolitan and Barbie all have pink logos, and all focus their efforts on females.
  • Black is a strange one. Not often linked to selling or marketing, black is very niche. Usually used to accompany luxury products, it is sleek and powerful. Chanel is the perfect example. Using contrasting black and white, Chanel is authoritative and lustrous.
  • Purple, much like blue, is calming. However, unlike blue, purple is not generally associated with banks, but rather beauty products and food. Generally targeting women, purple is feminine but more grown up than pink. Cadbury are one of the largest brands that adopt a whole purple logo, teaming it with neutral white.

Does gender make a difference?

Unsurprisingly green and blue are more commonly used when it comes to selling items or services to males. Technology companies such as Samsung often use these colours to speak to males. Whereas females are more open to the colour spectrum, red, yellow, blue, purple and pink are the main colours for attracting females. Hallmark are prime examples of this. Their logo is made up of a deep, attractive purple, with a bright yellow.

When designing logos or launching new products, it’s crucial to consider that consumers place visual appearance and colour above sound, smell and texture. So colour really is the driving force behind sales.

Have you been drawn to something because of its colour?