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Color Series: Communicating With Color

Click to show a brief explanation of what you will learn about the topic Communicating With Color and show links to other topics in our Color Series.
 
Communicating With Color

Colors We See Influence What We Feel
From the time of early infancy when our eyes first perceive color, we start to formulate feelings about those colors. Childhood memories are so involved with color that they are indelibly stamped on our psyches forever. We may not even be aware that we are remembering the colors associated with a specific incident. Even into adulthood we continue to respond to specific colors in a positive or negative way.

Infants as young as two months prefer colorful objects to non-color. Eye-tracking studies that record infants' attention span indicate that red and blue are the most preferred colors when they are infants. While it is true that infants are often attracted to black and white, it is not that they prefer black and white, but it attracts their attention because they see extreme contrast before they see color. Bright primary colors are often used as a stimulus to enhance brain development in infants.

For the pre-adolescent and young adolescent, using the "in" colors is very important as it gives them status and recognition with their peers. And color is used to make statements and be outrageous -- what better way to attract attention than to have "green" hair? This is the age group that is intensely trend-driven, so it behooves the company or manufacturer to be aware of the direction of color trends.

As we mature, we become more aware of our need for self expression. Trends still play a key role, but personal tastes and preferences are equally important.

Different Cultures Interpret Colors Differently
Different cultures have their own unique heritage of color symbolism and interpret colors according to their heritage. For example, depending on its usage, yellow can be understood as happy, bright, sunny, and warm in our culture. In the Orient, yellow is a sacred and healing color. Gold or yellow is a primary color in Buddhist countries and its brightness is interpreted in a spiritual context.

With shrinking barriers and increased communication with companies reaching out to embrace broader markets, older color concepts are changing and expanding. For example, historically white has been a color associated with mourning in the Chinese culture. Currently white is being used in everything from T-shirts to wedding gowns. This change in attitude is especially true for the younger people in many cultures who are less bound to tradition and more open to change.

Generalities About Color
Today, there are some generalities that can be made about the human response to color, largely due to universal psychological associations to color. For example, red provokes attention. The psychological association that goes back to the beginning of time is the association of red to blood and fire, two very important elements necessary to sustain life. But the red of bloodshed and fire could also represent danger and signal a "fight" or "flight" response. And although we may not always flee, we must pay attention to red.

Following are a few generalities, as associated in our culture, between specific colors and what feelings they generate that young designers and companies attempting to design their own marketing materials should be aware of. You will notice some overlap.

  • Reds:   Excitement, High Energy, Stimulation, Sexy, Provocative and Danger.
  • Pinks:   Happy, Sweet, Youthful and Romantic.
  • Oranges:   Friendly, Inviting, Energizing and Tangy.
  • Yellows:   Warm, Sunny, Cheerful, Bright and Happy.
  • Browns:   Rich, Rustic, Durable, Earthy and Stability.
  • Blues:   Cool, Dependable, Soothing, Serene, and Quiet.
  • Greens:   Fresh, Healing, Refreshing, Soothing and Natural.
  • Purples:   Sensual, Elegant, Mysterious, Spiritual, and Regal.
  • Neutrals:   Quality, Quiet, Timeless, Classic, Natural and Dependable.
  • Whites:   Clean, Pure, Crisp, Pristine, Innocent, and Bright.
  • Black:   Strong, Classic, Elegant, Mysterious and Powerful.


D = Dominant Color
S = Subordinate Color
A = Accent Color
Graphic of Color Combinations
 
 

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