In the branding world, color psychology is frequently fussed over, but seldom understood in a concrete way. That’s because, like so many facets of marketing and communication, the impacts colors have on audiences are often contingent on the personal preferences, experiences, cultural differences, and context each audience member brings to the table.
But that doesn’t mean we should forgot about color altogether, or choose shades at random for our presentations, our websites, or our wardrobes. Plenty of research has found that, when it comes to color, there’s reason to choose carefully.
- 85 percent of shoppers cite color as a primary reason for buying a particular product, according to Kissmetrics.
- Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that red improves performance on detail-oriented tasks, while blue enhances creativity.
- A study from the University of Minnesota found that the use of color in presentation and reporting materials enhances audience decision making.
Studies like these have inspired countless design and branding firms to outline how different colors affect our emotions, like this infographic from The Logo Company:
So, while color psychology may not provide hard and fast rules for every situation, there are plenty of general rules and best practices we can mine from existing research.
While communication, and not design, is our bread and butter here at Quantified Communications, our executive clients often ask for suggestions as to how their visual aids should look, or what they should wear on stage. So we dove in to see what we could learn.
Green Means Go — But Only at Stoplights
Having heard any number of colors cited as “the singular best color” for website buttons, Hubspot ran an A/B test to seek some clarity. They created two webpages that were identical except for the color of their “Get Started Now” button. One was green and the other was red. Despite what your driver’s ed manual told you, in this case, green did not mean “go.” The red button — connoting eye-catching excitement and passion — outperformed the green by 21 percent.
And red isn’t the only color to affect audiences. Here are some of the other color association trends we found in our research:
- Red stimulates attention to detail — along with excitement, as noted above — because people associate the color with danger, making them more cautious.
- Blue encourages creativity because it is associated with a peaceful environment in which it’s safe to explore. This color is also associated with conservativism and tranquility, which is why it’s often used in the corporate world.
- Green is perceived as warm and emotive, and encourages discussion and interaction.
- Yellow is an attention-grabbing color, great for highlighting key points. It’s also been found to stimulate mental activity and enhance memory.
- Purple, a color once associated with royalty and rarely found in nature, is considered exotic and luxurious, and fosters creativity.
When it comes to presenting, the understanding that colors affect how people feel and react has dramatic implications for your visual communications. But avoid using too many colors at one time, as they will distract the audience from your message. When creating visuals for a presentation, consider how the colors you choose will affect the audience’s emotions; will they complement your message or detract from it?
On Stage, Black May Be Your Color — On Screen, It’s Not
What colors are best to wear when presenting on stage or leading a meeting? In many ways, the colors you wear will have a similar effect on the audience as the ones in your visuals.
Our research shows that darker colors are perceived as being “heavier,” so professionals and organizations wanting to come across as authoritative should consider wearing black, while companies wishing to inspire optimism should lean towards yellow. Grey is the most neutral and won’t grab any attention. Red has been shown to increase heart rates, and can therefore be used to help excite an audience. Blue is often calming and associated with trust.
However, the rules are different on screen
On-screen presentations, such as webinars and videoconferences, don’t embrace quite as many wardrobe options, since the camera affects how colors will appear to an audience. For example, while red may come across as exciting in person, it often “bleeds” into other parts of the picture on camera. As Kelly Stoetzel warns in TED Talks, The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, white will blow out the shot, while black has a tendency to make the speaker look like a floating head, and small patterns can cause a shimmery effect on camera.
Research shows that in general, the best colors to wear on camera are cool blues, purples, pastels, and natural hues. Both men and women should choose a solid color that complements their skin tone. It’s also important to find out what your background on screen will be, and avoid colors that might clash with it.
Despite all these rules, Stoetzel says, the most important thing is to wear something you feel good in: “Wearing something that makes you feel good will help you project relaxed confidence. And audiences will respond to that.”
Countless corporate and cultural icons are associated with a particular color. Think of Target’s red bullseye, McDonalds’ golden arches, IBM’s “Big Blue,” or even Tiffany’s signature box.
While the color of your slides or the shade of your shirt may seem like minor concerns or unnecessary distractions from the central issues, the data demonstrates that visual cues go a long way in driving first impressions, general perceptions, likeability, and brand recognition.
What does your signature color say about you?