The Psychology of Colour

For decades now, successful companies have learned the in’s and out’s of how to effectively market their brands to consumers. As it happens, a large and significant part of this brand building process is deciding on a suitable colour scheme. This colour scheme will play a vital role in the company’s entire outward image.

It influences the logo, the website, any marketing materials and all product packaging. As such, it is a decision that should not be taken lightly. In fact, if you are in the process now of finalising your brand’s image, then you should pay good attention to the psychology of colour and how it alters buying habits. Here’s everything you need to know.

30th April 2018

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 41 seconds.

The science behind how we perceive colours

There are a few key reasons as to why colours have such a large influence on customer behaviour. The most practical and easy to understand is that the emotions they trigger are based on natural human impulses. For example, the colour red makes you think of blood and rage, so it spurs feelings of excitement and boldness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, blue is a far more peaceful and dependable colour. This could be because we associate it with the sea and the sky. Also, cultural differences have a large part to play in how you feel about colours and brands. For example, in France, the colour yellow represents jealousy, betrayal and weakness. In China it is a colour used to describe pronography. However, in most of the western world, yellow means happiness and peacefulness.

Finally, it appears that brands themselves have come to influence how many people view colours. A good example are social media sites. Twitter and Facebook both used different shades of blue, as they represent trust and stability. This meaning and perception has been reinforced by how much we see those brands each and every day. New social media sites and digital businesses also use blue as they attempt to emulate that success.

What exactly do different colours represent?

Here’s an overview of 8 of the most common colours and what they mean to the majority of Western consumers.


Feelings: Impulse, spontaneity, extrovert
Example brands: Fanta, Firefox, Hooters


Feelings: Active, powerful, bold
Example brands: Virgin, Coca Cola, Nintendo


Feelings: Modern, content, dependable
Example brands: Facebook, twitter, Dell


Feelings: Growth, balance, peacefulness
Example brands: BP, Tropicana, Starbucks


Feelings: Warmth, optimism, life
Example brands: Mcdonald’s, National Geographic, IKEA


Feelings: Feminine, love, calm
Example brands: Barbie, Victoria Secret, Cosmopolitan


Feelings: Creative, imaginative, fantasy
Example brands: Yahoo, Syfy Channel, Cadbury


Feelings: Calm, neutral, balance
Example brands: Wikipedia, Apple, Mercedes

Colour co-ordination, what does it mean?

There is a psychological effect in the world of colour science known as the Isolation Effect. Very simply put, this means that a colour that stands out significantly from its surroundings is more likely to be remembered. For example, imagine if Virgin painted their planes orange and then slapped their red logo on top of that. Do you think that would do better or worse than the red logo on a purely white plane?

Yeah, no doubts you said red on white. This is because the two colours compliment each other nicely, and it also helps to lodge the bright red Virgin logo in your mind. This rule of colour-coordination is important for your own branding. You will need to consider what key elements of your brand you want to stand out and why. For example, on your main website, you’ll want to be considerate of what are known as “call-to-actions”.

A call-to-action is a button or link that you want people to click on. This could be to buy a product or to download a free guide or anything you want. For this reason, you should think about, not only what your main colour will be, but also the alternate colours you want to either blend in with that one or to stand out from it.

A useful tool to use for the step is the Adobe Colour Wheel. Just head over to their page and select the main colour you want to use and then use the filter tool to find colours that complement or stand out from it. This tool will be useful for what’s to come.

How to decide what is the right colour scheme for your brand?

In order for you to select the right colour scheme for your brand, here is our 6 step guide:

1. What do you want your brand to represent?

Before you even start thinking about colours, take some time to write out the sorts of feelings and emotions you want people to associate with your brand. You might want it to be seen as reliable, trustworthy, fun, energetic, bold, brave or anything else you can come up with. Go crazy and put pen to paper.

2. What colours best match up with those emotions?

Once you have your list, go back and narrow it down to 5 of the most important emotions. Then, use the chart above to decide which colours you think best align with these emotions. You might find that 2 or 3 of the emotions you listed fall under one colour. If this is the case, then that’s a good thing!

3. What are your competitors doing?

Don’t worry, nothing solid has been decided yet, as you still need to do a little competitor research. Go through and see what sorts of colours your most successful competitors are using. Is there any correlation? Have a think about what they are doing well and what they are doing poorly? Perhaps their colour scheme is strong and perhaps not. Use this information to help you decide which colours you would think to use in your own branding.

4. Establish 3 colour schemes

It’s useful now to still keep your options open, but to narrow it down to 3 different colour scheme ideas that you think might look good. A good practice is to have one dominant colour, as well as a secondary one, such as how McDonald’s have yellow for their main colours and then read as a supporting colour.

5. Trial 3 of your top ideas and seek feedback

Once you have those colours, create some mock-ups of a logo and basic website design ideas. It might be useful to bring in a designer for this stage. Throw some ideas around come up with what you think to be 3 potentially suitable brands to represent your company. Then, take those out and speak to friends, family and potential customers to get their honest feedback. You might find that one set of branding works well, or that none really came out on top.

6. Use those findings to either establish your brand or repeats steps 3, 4 and 5

Depending on your results from the previous step, you either have a brand you know will work, or realise that it still needs some work. Don’t get disheartened. Some businesses need to repeat steps 3 through 5 a few times until they get it right. But, by following this simple formula you can ensure that, once you do have your finished colour scheme, you know it is a great choice.

Need help defining your image?

If choosing colour schemes doesn’t come naturally to you then don’t worry you’re not alone. Plenty of people find it difficult to envisage the right colour for their brand and how these colours would work with different design elements of their site. Luckily, Element Media is here to support you.

With years spent designing custom websites for businesses all across the UK, our passionate design team is well adept at understanding colour schemes. We know what works and what doesn’t, and know how to weave it into a custom site that suits your brand.

But don’t worry, we don’t expect you to take our word for it. Instead, head over to this page here and check out some of the work we have done for previous clients. Afterwards, visit our contact page and drop us a message. We would love to hear from you and to put together a custom quotation for building your site.

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