An Introduction To Graphic Design: The Psychology of Color

Color is one of the most powerful elements of graphic design. It speaks to everyone and can be understood at the most primal level. When toddlers begin learning to speak, one of the first things they are taught are the primary colors. From there, colors are used to teach more complicated lessons and concepts. Most people have a favorite color, or color they most identify with. Even animals have shown to be partial to certain colors. The power of color comes from its ability to be universally understood. While colors have various names and pronunciations in different languages, the color itself stays consistent. Colors can evoke strong emotions and stimulate critical thinking. In the upcoming lesson we’ll discuss color as it relates to graphic design. Like the previous lessons, this section will build upon what you’ve learned so far. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read through the previous lessons please see: An Introduction To Graphic Design Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 here on the Freepik Blog.
Retro bicycle with watercolor stains Free Vector
Rainbow swirl background Free Vector
Color is a very broad and excited topic, but before choosing the colors you’ll use in your next design project it’s important to understand some basics about color. Generally there are two types of colors: warm colors and cool colors. Examples of warm colors are reds, oranges, and yellows. Those colors are powerful, simulating, and passionate. They promote critical thinking and provide a sense of power and authority. Cool colors are blues, greens, and purples. Cool colors provide a sense of trustworthiness and honesty. Many professional companies use cooler color palates when designing their logos and branding to promote sincerity, professionalism, and trust. Understanding color goes far beyond identifying warm colors versus cool colors. Each color has a different effect on the brain. While there are infinite color combinations and derivatives of all the colors, we’ll be focusing on the basic colors and their effects on the brain.
  • Yellow is a bright and happy color. It can promote memory and focus. Yellow opens the mind and draws attention to its surrounding elements. Parties, gatherings, and celebrations tend to have yellow in the theme and decorations because yellow creates a hyper and spontaneous mindset. Bright and sunny days are always associated with positive feelings because of the warmth and yellow tones of the sun.
  • Green is very calming and gives a sense of peace and serenity. Many people find nature calming because of the green undertones found in plants, trees, water, insects, and natural habitats. Many doctors’ offices and medial facilities will use green throughout the building to maintain calmness and encourage the patients to relax. Green is also used to show environmental compassion and a general respect for ones community.
  • Blue is also a calming color. It promotes productivity and trust. Blue is a very dependable color. Most people associate blue with integrity and sincerity; making it an excellent choice for most professional and large corporate branding. As one of the coolest colors, blue is ideal for mobile application icons and layouts. Most applications are designed for productivity, and the cooler colors provide that sense of real motivation and accomplishment.
  • Purple is the color of compassion and spiritually. It combines red and blue to create a nice middle ground between energy and focus.
  • Pink is youthful, fun, and exciting. As a color found in the red family, pink can raise the blood pressure and move people to action. Companies that target younger people may use pink in their branding to show excitement and spontaneity. Think of several toy manufacturers. These companies use bright and fun colors on their packaging to appeal to a younger audience. This is also true for certain packaged foods and snacks as well as different technology products. For several years, manufactures have made special editions of their products in fun colors with the most common of those colors being pink.
  • Red is a high energy color. It inspires action and elevates the heart rate and blood pressure. Red is the most noticeable color and is used for high impact or to show top priority. Think of stop signs and traffic signals. Red sends a clear message of abruptness and acute attention. Red can also make us feel safe and confident while also creating a sense of responsibility and assertion.
  • Orange is a mix of red and yellow. It stimulates the appetite and promotes good social behavior. This is why most restaurant menus are designed with oranges, reds, and yellows. These colors are all high energy colors, that call for action.
  • White is somewhat of an opposite to the color orange. It encourages focus and minimalism. White forces the mind to declutter and direct attention to a central object. White can also been seen as illusive and mystical. Many news stations use white rooms for interviews to create that sense of mystery and wonder. Product photography is often shot on a white background so the viewer can focus on the product instead of the unnecessary background elements.
  • Gray can be an unsettling color. Many people aren’t sure how to feel about it. It’s not quite black, but its not white either. Ethically questionable actions would fall into what is commonly called a gray area. Something that is not technically good but also not technically bad. Gray can also be seen as sleek and durable. Often, designers use a dark grey hue on websites instead of a pure black. Companies such as Apple have made gray into a long lasting and iconic color. Some would consider gray to be timeless and infinite.
  • Black is a restful color that can evoke both positive and negative emotions. It’s a very contextual color; the emotions and thoughts evoked by black are dependent on the surrounding objects and images. Black is also a very powerful color that asserts authority and respect. It represents elegance and simplicity. Think of a basic black dress or tuxedo. These articles of clothing are considered to be acceptable and appropriate for any formal occasion. Like gray, black is timeless and dependable.
Watercolor background design Free Vector
Storm background with sky in different colors Free Vector
As you can see, color selection is an important part of the design process. As the designer, you have to choose colors that effect the brain in a way that works best for each project. The next lesson will continue the study of color theory and psychology.


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