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Colour Psychology in Design

An original Jess the dash. designer blog takeover

Have you ever wondered why traffic lights are red, yellow, and green? Or why everything on Valentine’s Day is red and pink? It’s almost as though colours have their own language, and humans instinctively learn this language worldwide. Well, that’s just it! Colours really are their own language, and can affect our mood, behaviours, and perception. This is colour psychology.

As a designer, it’s absolutely integral to understand the psychological effects of colour as, when executed successfully, it creates designs that are visually appealing, emotionally impactful, and functionally effective. The way that a colour is used within a design, as well as the choice of palette, can greatly influence how it is perceived by its viewers.

Colours & Emotions

For example, colour schemes that are more bright and bold can evoke a sense of excitement and fun, whereas a pale, cool-colour based palette typically create more of a sense of calm. Warmer colours like orange and yellow are usually associated with happiness, positivity and – you guessed it – warmth. They’re like a little smiley face, cheering you on and comforting you. On the other hand, darker shades like grey, charcoal and black are often associated with professionalism, elegance, or perhaps a tad of edginess (depending on the use-case).

Colours & Messaging

On top of their ability to evoke certain emotions, colour can also be utilised to communicate particular ideas, messages, or functionalities. We know that green is typically a colour of progression – see traffic lights for reference – so it is the most effective colour to use for buttons like “Continue” or “Proceed To Purchase” etc. in the case of UI (user interface) design. Green is also often associated with growth and environmentalism, so when it comes to logo or packaging design for an eco-friendly brand, using green is an effective way to communicate values to your audience at a glance alone. See? Colour psychology is powerful!

Colours & Cultures

But hold up. It’s important to mention that the associated meaning of colours can vary between cultures. In Western cultures (like ours in Australia #straya), white is often connected with purity and innocence, whereas in some Eastern cultures, white is heavily associated with death and mourning. With this in mind, especially for fellow designers out there, it’s extremely important to consider the cultural context and your target audience when choosing colours for your design.

Colours & Contrast

The use of contrast is another crucial aspect of colour psychology for design. Colours that are very different from each other create a high contrast design, which can effectively draw the viewer’s attention to particular elements of the design. For example, using a pale yellow background with dark purple text can make the text stand out and be easily read. Low contrast designs using colours that are very similar to each other can create a sense of balance and unison, but it’s important to be careful with low contrast when using text that needs to be read. Readability and legibility are key design principles that are overlooked in the design world more often than you might think, resulting in poor engagement.

A Good Designer Understands Colour Psychology

While colour psychology is, of course, not an exact science, it is a really important factor to consider when it comes to design – that includes design for print, digital, websites, signage, branding, social media and more. The colours chosen for your design can drastically influence how your audience interpret not only the design itself, but also your brand as a whole. That’s a lot of pressure, right? That’s why you should consider working with a designer who understands colour psychology and takes human emotion, behaviour, and functionality into consideration when designing. Colours used with these factors in mind result in a design that is visually striking, impactful, and effective.


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