The psychology of color in design

 

Color is a lot like music – waves of energy that effect our emotions.

 

Your choice of colors can be as important as choosing the songs you include on your album, the instruments on your tracks or the photo for your cover.

Color is cultural. Color is male and  female, young and old. How we perceive and choose colors can be affected by our mood (or affect our mood), our immediate environment or our memories of something connected to that color. And this can change over time.

Color is psychological. You may love a certain color one morning, in a certain lighting, and then the next evening it looks terrible to you. Why? It might be the light, or maybe you’re more tired, or angry at your kids, who knows. The point is, color is not only a result of light waves, it is a very real psychological phenomenon.

Like harmonies and ensembles in music, color combinations create an entirely new dimension as they play off each other, creating contrast, harmony, tension or calm. Choosing a lot of dark colors sets one tone while choosing a lot of light colors sets another just like a group of sopranos.

Color and color combinations can scream or whisper, sooth or attract your attention, even laugh. Color can even create the illusion of movement on a static page.

Color’s most powerful use is to elicit specific emotions and reactions. For example, red is typically thought of as an attention-grabbing, hot color, and blues more calming or convey stability.

The amazing thing about color is that even the absence of color speaks volumes. Like a silent pause in the middle of a song, black and white set up negative and positive spaces that draw us in and focus our gaze. Both accentuate other colors. Basic black grounds your design like the bass line.

Choosing colors

The right colors can bring a design to life, or destroy it. My first source for colors is often the cover image, which tends to set the visual tone for the rest of the packaging.

Close your eyes and listen to your music – what color(s) fill your mind?

Draw from obvious references in your song lyrics.

Don’t pick colors by looking at the color name. Look at swatches, at color photos or artwork, color combinations, even your clothes.

But don’t let your color choices overwhelm or get in the way of the message. Color is still just a tool to communicate the message – it is not the message.

 

The Meanings of Color

Consider the cultural, gender and emotional meanings colors have. Understanding these is important in order to convey the right tone or message, and make the desired connection to your music.

Cool colors tend to have a calming effect, and can range from cold, even impersonal to comforting and nurturing.
Blue – strong, important, peaceful, intelligent
Green – growth, health, environment, harmony

Warm colors evoke emotions that range from optimism to violence. Red, yellow, pink, or orange can create excitement or even anger.
Pink – sweet, nice, romance, playful, delicate
Gold – riches, extravagance, bright, traditional
Red – love, passion, heat, joy, power
Yellow – happy, joy, cheerful, remembrance
Purple – royal, precious, romantic, sacred
Green – growth, health, environment, harmony

Neutral colors tend to be unifying and complementary: Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White

The use of colors in familiar phrases provides clues to how a color might be perceived by others. For example, blue, one of the most common and popular colors, has many connotations:

True blue – someone loyal and faithful
Out of the blue – unexpected
Blue ribbon – first rate, top prize
Baby blues – Blue eyes
Feeling blue – feeling sad or depressed
The blues – depression, state of sadness
Blue Monday – feeling sad
Singing the blues – bemoaning one’s circumstances

Read more – this site has a ton of interesting info about color. http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/color/a/symbolism.htm.

And then there was a 2008 study led by Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester in which men considered photographs of women on red backgrounds or wearing red shirts to be more attractive, although not necessarily more likeable or intelligent. We do tend to think of red as the most “active” color. Red has been shown to stimulate the senses and raise the blood pressure. So if you want to make your CD or poster stand out, make the type red, right? Not necessarily. Optically, red is a regressive color and is the first color to disappear at a distance (it also fades in the sun more easily due to the ultra violet wavelength).

While this is all interesting, don’t get too caught up in what a specific color “means” or how well we see it, just be aware of how colors tie in to the emotions of your music and what you want to communicate by using them.

Find this article and more in my free CD Project Planner Ebook. This interactive PDF will take you through the steps and discuss the different aspects of creating your CD from the point you finish in the studio. It is full of answers to things you need to know – and a lot of questions you need to ask yourself.

The Meanings of Color

Consider the cultural, gender and emotional meanings colors have. Understanding these is important in order to convey the right tone or message, and make the desired connection to your music.

Cool colors tend to have a calming effect, and can range from cold, even impersonal to comforting and nurturing.
Blue – strong, important, peaceful, intelligent
Green – growth, health, environment, harmony

Warm colors evoke emotions that range from optimism to violence. Red, yellow, pink, or orange can create excitement or even anger.
Pink – sweet, nice, romance, playful, delicate
Gold – riches, extravagance, bright, traditional
Red – love, passion, heat, joy, power
Yellow – happy, joy, cheerful, remembrance
Purple – royal, precious, romantic, sacred
Green – growth, health, environment, harmony

Neutral colors tend to be unifying and complementary: Brown, Beige, Ivory, Gray, Black, White

The use of colors in familiar phrases provides clues to how a color might be perceived by others. For example, blue, one of the most common and popular colors, has many connotations:

True blue – someone loyal and faithful
Out of the blue – unexpected
Blue ribbon – first rate, top prize
Baby blues – Blue eyes
Feeling blue – feeling sad or depressed
The blues – depression, state of sadness
Blue Monday – feeling sad
Singing the blues – bemoaning one’s circumstances

Read more – this site has a ton of interesting info about color. http://desktoppub.about.com/cs/color/a/symbolism.htm.

And then there was a 2008 study led by Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester in which men considered photographs of women on red backgrounds or wearing red shirts to be more attractive, although not necessarily more likeable or intelligent. We do tend to think of red as the most “active” color. Red has been shown to stimulate the senses and raise the blood pressure. So if you want to make your CD or poster stand out, make the type red, right? Not necessarily. Optically, red is a regressive color and is the first color to disappear at a distance (it also fades in the sun more easily due to the ultra violet wavelength).

While this is all interesting, don’t get too caught up in what a specific color “means” or how well we see it, just be aware of how colors tie in to the emotions of your music and what you want to communicate by using them.

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