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How Color Schemes Influence Attitude, Perception and Motivation

Written by Deb Strout on Wed, Nov 21, 2012

The Color KittensThink back on the first book you read—that you really loved. For me that book was The Color Kittens. This was a Little Golden Book—one of those inexpensive (29¢!) paper and cardboard squares.

It was the pictures that kept me going back to read it again and again. Those fascinating kittens in their overalls and buckets of paint! Brush and Hush…the tale of how they frolicked and spilled and mixed up all the colors of the world...kind of Laurel & Hardy in Technicolor.

Little did I know then, but I was being taught a basic color wheel and how to mix colors. I remember my excitement discovering I could do the same thing with finger paints. Naturally, I would overdo it and end up with a mess of murky brown paint (although that was one of the colors the kittens created, too!)

I am still fascinated with mixing colors, seeing the excitement adding certain shade of red or orange to a design or logo. Cooling down a page layout with soft greens and blues.

Seeing the Red White and Blue

We know emotions can be described in color. By using certain colors, you can influence attitude, perception and motivation. Like feeling blue…seeing red…turning green with jealousy.

Blue is a very positive color in the United States, often slated as a countrywide favorite. Blue implies nature, harmony and calmness. It is also universal, being the color of water and the sky and a symbol of fertility. At the same time, blue is the least popular color of food, because it is seen as unnatural (but it seems natural in the vegetable bin in my refrig!) Overall, blue is associated with positive emotions.

Red is a fire color. Americans view red as the meaning of stop, passion and energy. Red is also the color of romance, especially when it comes to red roses. It is also heavily symbolic when referenced as the color of blood­—and associates it with both positive and negative emotions.

White carries many positive reflections in Western culture, the color of purity and all things sacred. White is associated with weddings, with a white dress symbolizing the virginity and pureness of the bride (hey! what about the groom?) White is also a significant color good health and cleanliness. White is a color of happiness and positivity.

The color green is another positive emotion color, most often associated with the lush foliage of the Earth; but, it does represent some negative emotions as well. Green vegetables are thought of as the healthiest, and being healthy puts people in a happy state of mind. Green is also the color of money, however, which symbolizes jealousy and greed.

Black carries heavy color symbolism and conjures up many emotions. Some view black as scary and evil…black cats are seen as bad luck; black is a funeral color. Black is associated with sadness, mourning and being unlucky. On the other hand, black is sophisticated and sharp. Pair it with any other color, and that color picks up in intensity. Think of stained glass—when outlined in black, all those colors become jewels.

Crockett & Tubbs

Colors can designate a time period. Can you visualize the “Miami Vice” colors of the early ’80s? What about the primary Mondrian colors of the ’60s? Some of the fashion and color choices we choose now, can now become cringe-worthy.

Look around and see if you can pick out some of the colors of this decade. What’s cool now, will become the subject of ridicule in 10 years by the kindergarteners of today. Starting to rethink your wardrobe choices?

How to redo your house in one-half hour

Colors also vary, based on industry. The obvious one is the fashion industry, but there are also trending colors in manufacturing, cars, and of course, home fashion—including appliance, countertop, floor and wall color!

Even items designated “neutral” have trending palettes. Once you needed  stark white to be neutral…now, according to HGTV, you must have ecru, dusty gray or antique linen walls.

What’s trending?

Each year, Graphic Design USA magazine issues a future color trends report created by Pantone. They survey the designers of New York Fashion Week to determine the season’s most important color trends.

This year they concentrated on consumer’s expectation of practicality: what colors will have staying power and can be relied upon as a steadying influence in unsteady times. These are color palettes that play to their practical side, while also satisfying aspirations for something novel—and that remains key to enticing the would-be consumer.

The Color of the Year for 2012 is Tangerine Tango—“a spirited reddish orange that is the perfect companion to almost any neutral.” As they indicated in the report, “Over time, orange has grown in popularity and acceptance among designers and consumers alike, encouraging those who were once gun-shy about using bold colors to give them a chance by pairing them with verstile neutrals to exude a more subtle confidence.”

Want to know other trending colors? Think Pink Flambé, Honey Gold, French Roast, Ultramarine Green, Bright Chartreuse, Olympian Blue, Titanium, Rhapsody (plum) or Rose Smoke!

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Topics: graphic design, Advertising

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