The Psychology of Color: Choosing Your Color Personality (Part One)
Color can be exciting. Or … scary. If you’re someone who wears white and black and grey only, adding color to your brand can be daunting. If you’re someone who wears a rainbow on their body every day, it’s probably still scary, because you love all the colors. How could you possibly narrow it down?
Choosing a color palette is easier when you know a little bit about the science (yes, science!) and psychology of color.
The Color Wheel
You’ve likely seen a color wheel. Perhaps you’ve played around with Adobe Color, or maybe you took intro to art in high school. The color wheel isn’t just thrown together; it’s based on the way white light divides when the light itself is bent. You might be familiar with the result of this phenomenon: the rainbow.
The color wheel is divided up into your basic colors (remember ROYGBIV?) but each of those colors blends into the ones around it. There are, quite literally, thousands of colors in the actual rainbow, but the human eye can only perceive so many.
So, with so many colors to choose from, how do you even begin to narrow it down? First, you need to know about the difference between warm and cool colors.
Warm + Cool
It’s pretty easy to remember which colors are warm and which colors are cool. What color is fire? Red, orange, and yellow. What color do your lips turn when you’re cold? Blue or purple or green. (Okay, not green, but green is technically a cool color.)
Psychologically, our brains associate warmer colors with things like energy and passion and aggression. Cool colors are associated with feelings of calm and trust and reliability. These associations have been proven, time and time again, to have a substantial effect on the way we think and feel. Color can even affect the way we act. One study showed that warm-colored placebo pills were more often reported to be effective than cool-colored pills. Placebo pills–pills that, by definition, are ineffective. Color has that much power.
Because color has that much power, taking the time to consider what your brand’s color palette is vital. The colors you use will have an effect on your clients and readers whether they realize it or not. Color is a language, and you need to know what you’re trying to say to choose the right colors.
So what are you trying to say? What feel are you going for? What’s your color personality? We’ve compiled a list of different personalities to give you some direction. From here, you can adjust (or mix one or two) different personalities to create a color palette that’s perfect for you and your brand.
What words do we usually think of when we think of feminine? The thesaurus gives the synonyms “tender” and “soft.” Traditionally, pink has been a feminine color, mainly because it’s warm without having the harshness of a bright red. Skin tones are often considered feminine: nudes, blushes, warm browns. We might use the word “delicate” to describe a feminine color palette.
However, even feminine can be broken down into different categories. Think of Barbie: their color is bright, hot pink. You wouldn't consider their brand to be delicate. It’s less delicate and more punchy or girly. Their brand is directed toward younger girls rather than women.
Or take Victoria’s Secret: their main brand’s color is blush pink, while Pink’s is similar to that of Barbie. Both are feminine color palettes, but you can tell that their target demographic is different just by looking at the colors. It’s clear there are many different ways to utilize a feminine color palette.
If you want feminine in the more traditional sense–delicate, tender, soft–it’s good to go with lighter pinks and nudes. If you’re going for punchy, choose a brighter pink or fuschia, like Pink or Cosmo.
Using a thesaurus is a fun way to get just the right word for describing your color personality. Synonyms for masculine include “robust” and “strong” as well as words like “bold” and “brave” (and … beefcake?) Some masculine brands you might be familiar with are Black & Decker, Joseph A. Bank, and Hugo Boss.
Or take a look at the men’s cologne counter in any department store. What colors do you see? Black, brown, and blue. And everything looks either sleek or vintage.
Traditionally, masculine colors are cooler. They often include metal tones like silver and steel, as well as earthy tones like dark brown. And, of course, blue has long been associated with masculinity.
There doesn’t seem to be quite as much variation in masculine brands as there is in feminine brands. However, depending on what other words you think describe your brand, your version of masculine might differ. For example, if you are a more outdoorsy masculine brand, like Bass Pro or Dick’s Sporting Goods, you might choose a dark green instead of a blue. If you’re more of a luxury masculine brand, you might prefer more steely grays or blues. We’ll talk about combining personalities later.
This one is relatively easy. Who sells organic produce? Whole Foods. Sprouts. What color are their brands? Green.
How and why did they both choose green? If you do a Google search for “famous green brands,” over half of them will have “eco” somewhere in the name. The color green is associated with life, the earth, nature, and vitality.
If you’re going to have a store dedicated to organic and eco-friendly products (whether it’s food or energy resources) green is the way to go.
However, you don’t have to be selling food or energy to choose an organic color palette. If you’re trying to signal health, life, or vitality in any way, green and other organic colors, like browns and yellows, are a good bet. Starbucks, for example, is one of the most famous green brands out there. There’s nothing healthy about Starbucks at all, but caffeine, in a way, provides life, because it provides energy. A lot of gum brands use green as well because green also represents freshness.
What have so many brands been doing, lately? Simplifying. Modernizing. And how are they doing that? Think about the style of logo that is popular these days: neutral in color, simple in design, often geometric or type-heavy.
The modern color personality looks much like a lighter version of the masculine personality: greys, whites, creams, and metal tones.
There are a few different paths you can take when choosing a modern color palette. One theme that’s been cropping up in design lately is “modern farmhouse.” To warm up the light metals and neutrals of the contemporary color palette, you could add in some woody tones to replace or complement the metals.
Or you can go the less rustic route and stick to or even emphasize the more urban and tech-y personality, like Apple. If you’re a technology or web-oriented business, a modern color personality is an excellent way to go. This personality is especially easy to customize, as a pop of any color (chosen based on your secondary personality, which we will discuss later) will go just fine with the minimalist neutrals of the modernist.
What do you think of when you think of fierce? Fire. Speed. Passion. Black and red are particularly good colors to portray these kinds of feelings. Rolling Stone and Puma rely heavily on red. The Nike swoosh is often black. In fact, many sports brands rely on these colors.
Even if you don’t wish to use red, warmer colors are pretty much the only option if fierce is what you’re going for. Cool colors are calming, while warm colors are stimulating. Want proof of this? Think of fast food restaurants.
What color do most of them rely on? Chick-fil-A, Arby’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Wendy’s … they all use red. Red is arousing and increases the heart rate, which some studies have shown increases your appetite. Red gets your attention.
Black, too, is associated with power, authority, and strength. Want your brand to be especially fierce? Pair black with a bright red or another warm color.