Every designer should have a basic understanding of color psychology. It goes beyond knowing how to combine and contrast colors.
Color psychology has been around for a while now, yet many still seem to ignore its importance.
Interestingly, almost everything related to color psychology results from our applications. Color plays a role in everyone’s life.
Let’s say you have an important meeting or event, and you want to look classy; chances are your primary color will be black.
You could also consider white, red, or blue.
Alt: Man with a dark navy blue suit and tie, elegant watch, and a smartphone.
We can guarantee most of you thought about something like that when we mentioned “classy.”
Well, blue tends to communicate stability, calmness, integrity, and confidence. Black usually means sophistication. The same is for white and cleanliness, red and energy, or grey and authority.
Today, we’re looking at how different colors affect the brain.
How does the brain see color?
Color is nothing but light. Light bounces off objects. It reflects specific wavelengths based on every object’s features.
These wavelengths determine which colors we process. They hit our eyes’ retina, and the cone comes into play.
Cones are receptors: cells “translating” light. Incoming light stimulates these cells and sends a signal to our brain: the color.
Alt: Diagram of an eye’s anatomy to show the parts connecting color and the brain.
Humans have three kinds of cones. That’s why we can better discern color than other mammals.
Birds have an additional cone type that lets them perceive UV light. It’s the same for insects and fish.
However, only humans can attach meanings and patterns to colors. That’s why you always imagine certain schemes while thinking about different ideas.
Color and the brain: based on neuroscience
Color plays a vital role for humans. Experts seem to agree it’s the most important visual element.
Researchers have studied the relationship between colors and memory and understanding the effects of colors on the brain.
Most importantly, colors might play a big role in our memory. Researchers have agreed that color can improve our memory.
Needless to say, that’s a key advantage for marketers. That’s why companies use a proper color to ensure people remember their brand.
Furthermore, the reader’s attention links directly to color. Advertisements using the right palette are more effective than simple, black-and-white ads.
We can also see evidence of this in regular classrooms. Children’s classrooms are a great example of how color affects us as using the right color palette can improve reading comprehension and learning.
How colors affect the brain responses
Researchers have found that some of our retinal inputs go straight to the hypothalamus.
It’s interesting because the hypothalamus doesn’t have visual functions. However, it processes lots of information from the environment.
The hypothalamus also regulates many physiological functions, including sleep cycles and heart rate.
Curiously, it also promotes neurotransmitter release and flow. As such, it ties directly into our mood and mental state.
We don’t perceive these colors as visuals. They convey different kinds of information to our brains.
Exposure to blue light, for instance, results in cortisol release and melatonin reduction. Green, on the other hand, releases serotonin to relieve pain better.
There are many ways how color affects the brain functions. Knowing these functions breed innovations in the learning industry.
It can also play a significant role in improving marketing and design efforts.
It’s common knowledge, by now, that green promotes rest and calmness. People are able to perform tedious and boring tasks for hours. Plus, taking breaks in green rooms could vastly improve their focus.
A study showed that plain concrete influenced students’ ability to complete meticulous yet repetitive tasks. Later, one group of students rested in a green room and another one in a concrete one after performance hours.
The former was more effective in completing their tasks afterward. They had better concentration, which resulted in fewer errors.
A theory attributes the result to nature. Other studies have taken a look at workspaces using green palettes. Employee’s productivity and focus always appear higher than in other cases.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Green is dominant in natural environments.
Additionally, it doesn’t grab too much attention as it’s right in the middle of the wavelength spectrum. As a result, our brains have an easy time perceiving it.
Boosting energy levels (maybe too much)
Using red stimulates our mind, often increasing heart rate. You could experience a significant energy boost if you stay in a red or orange room.
With that in mind, it’s vital to moderate it’s exposure.
Red is a common sign of danger. You can see its usage on stop and other danger-preventing signs.
We associate this color with distress, thus activating our flight-or-fight response.
That’s a problem if we prolong our exposure. It could promote anxiety from an increased heart rate.
That’s why red and orange are often found in smaller portions in most designs. They’re great for communicating high energy and activity.
However, staying in a red room for too long can cause noticeable issues.
Two sides of blue
Blue is somewhat contradictory as a whole concept when speaking about mental stimulation. Its wavelength is quite short.
It’s also popular when the goal is to reduce visual and psychological stimulation. Lighter blue tones can even improve sleep.
That’s why most people paint their rooms in blue or green.
Nevertheless, the blue light can be disastrous for getting to sleep. Most therapists recommend reducing exposure before going to bed.
In fact, that’s why using our cell phones in bed is a bad idea.
Blue light carries more energy, which can confuse our brain since that’s the same color associated with sunlight. Our brains start releasing cortisol to wake us up.
Therefore, it’s detrimental for sleeping. When prolonged, it can also increase stress and related disorders.
How color affects memory
The brain also processes colors in different areas. It’s more than just visual information.
As we mentioned, memory and color have been a main focus for researchers. For example, blue is also a common recommendation for teaching math.
We could argue you probably think about blue whenever someone says “math”.
Other colors can also impact our memory. It’s easier for our brains to associate color with information. The brain processes colors much faster than text.
We can recognize a color assigned to a task more quickly than the text detailing the instructions.
That’s why calendars and sticky notes are usually colorful. It’s easier to remember deadlines and appointments if we code them with colors.
Why businesses should prioritize the right colors
Studying colors for ads is a standard practice now. However, it’s a lot more than just thinking about which colors combine nicely.
It’s not enough to understand that colors attract more customers and sales. Designers need to know why and which colors do that.
Knowing the relationship between color and the brain is vital for successful marketing.
Consumers might base their purchase decision solely on color, which means you could use the best copywriting and still miss something out. Color psychology could be more important than sales copy.
Remember, colors are still information for our brain. Using too many of them could cause a sensory overload. If you don’t know how colors affect the brain, you could be missing many sales.
Design hacks using color effects on the brain
The most important takeaway from color and the brain is how different colors affect the brain. You might know that using the right colors is crucial, which means little to nothing if you don’t know each color’s effect.
The first step is to learn what every color represents. Then, you can implement their influence into your marketing. For a brief guide, you can type the following:
- Red color, for instance, ties to emotion and energy. Love, passion, and excitement are primary emotions exuded from red. That’s why it’s common on Valentine’s dDay and McDonald’s equally.
- Pink is a lighter red in every sense. We associate it with love and romance. It’s also prominent on Valentine’s Day. However, it’s a lot calmer and “softer” than red.
- Orange is similar to red. It promotes excitement and warmth. It’s also very attention-grabbing.
- Yellow is warm and cheerful. It can also breed anxiety. It’s more eye-catching than orange, so it’s great for capturing attention.
- Green is mostly soothing and relaxing. It’s also commonly associated with money.
- Blue is also calm but more elegant and confident. It can also represent sadness in certain contexts.
- Purple denotes mystery and spirituality. It’s a common color related to royalty, and therefore wealth.
- White is clean and pure. In other cases, it could also symbolize sterility.
- Finally, black is both dark and elegant. Depending on its use, it could remind us of death or fashion.