Color Theory for Designers: Understanding the Psychology of Color 

by . June 28th, 2023

COLOR THEORY FOR DESIGNERS: Understanding the Psychology of Colors

Think of the last product you purchased. What color was it? Did you consciously pick that hue, or were you just drawn to it for some reason? According to research done by the Institute for Color Research, customers make a snap judgment of a product within 90 seconds of the first glance, and 62% and 90% of their opinions is solely based on color. That’s how powerful the psychology of color is.

What is Color Psychology? 

Color psychology is the study of how colors and hues play an integral part in affecting our emotions, behavior, and perceptions. It is based on the idea that different colors can evoke different psychological and emotional responses in people and that individual, cultural, and societal factors can influence these responses. For instance, when you associate red with boldness, passion, or even anger, that’s color psychology at work.  

While they are fundamentally similar, color psychology differs from color theory because each focuses on different aspects of color. The former focuses on how hues influence emotions or behavior, while the latter concerns technical principles. Color theory acts as a guide about how different colors interact with one another and how they can be used in unison to create hues, shades, and tones that work together visually. It shows you the difference between complementary colors and contrasting ones. 

Color psychology, on the other hand, focuses on meaning and emotions. It delves into perception. When you use a specific color, how will your brand be perceived? Is it too cold and distant, or is it warm and inviting? We go through some of the most common color perceptions below so you will know how to take advantage of color psychology for your projects. 

The Emotional Rollercoaster

Color Theory Infographics

  • Red: passion, energy, excitement – Red is all about creating a sense of urgency. It preys on impulse, which is why it’s one of the most used logo colors in retail and fast-food establishments.  
  • Orange: warmth, playfulness, energy – Orange is best associated with excitement, energy, playfulness, and warmth. It gives off a feeling of being active but runs the risk of looking immature and aloof.  
  • Yellow: cheerfulness, optimism, caution – cheerful and welcoming are for yellow. It’s the color for a sunny disposition, after all. It conveys friendliness and familiarity. 
  • Green: growth, nature, tranquility – Green is associated most with health and nature. It gives off the feeling that the brand is eco-friendly, outdoorsy, or full of freshness. It also has a calming characteristic, making it the perfect color for businesses in the medical field.  
  • Blue: calmness, trustworthiness, stability – For blue, the most important thing is establishing trust, authority, and respect. It gives off the feeling of being dependable and reliable. Most tech and automotive companies use different shades of blue.  
  • Purple: luxury, creativity, mystery – A color associated most with royalty and luxury. It represents wealth, opulence, and a rich history. Purple can also convey wisdom and intelligence.  
  • Pink: femininity, romance, sensitivity – For better or worse, pink is attached to all things feminine. While the color evokes feelings of warmth, care, and softness, it must be used strategically, as it may alienate potential customers.

Harnessing the Power of Colors For Your Business 

When used correctly, color psychology can amplify the strength of your message exponentially. This can be applied to essential marketing or specific campaigns. Still, struggling to see how it fits? Here are a couple of popular brands that have been using color psychology to get the right emotions out of customers:

Coca-Cola – Red is as bold as it can get. Coke uses this to immediately grab your attention and not-so-subtly coax you to make an impulse buy. The color red can also make you hungry, so think of all the fast-food joints that use it. Spoiler alert – pretty much all of them use red. 

Nickelodeon – Nick is as whimsical as it gets. Their orange paint splatter logo tells you everything you need to know – they’re playful, fun, and don’t take themselves too seriously. 

McDonald’s – Mickey D’s yellow is one of the most well-known logos on the planet. Their choice of color evokes cheerfulness and optimism. It gives you a happy feeling whenever you see it. It’s stimulating and attention-grabbing. Use this with caution, though, as too much can give feelings of fear and anxiety. 

Starbucks – Starbucks uses green to make you think of freshness and that every cup is from farm to table. This color also gives feelings of calm and relaxation, which is precisely what a coffee shop strives for. It’s very easy on the eyes.  

Facebook and Twitter – Both companies use shades of blue for their logo to convey authority, intelligence, and trust. It shows they’re dependable and trustworthy, which is crucial as they hold much of your private data.  

Picking the right color for your line of business 

Now that you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of the basics of color psychology, how can you take advantage of this for your business? Go back to the start. Think about your core customers and how you want them to perceive you. Do you want to give off an authoritative air, or do you want to look friendly and hold their hand as they complete a purchase? The answers to these introspective questions will guide you toward the best colors to use for your business.  

Once you’ve decided how your brand will be perceived, you can pick a color for your logo or web design. Aside from what we’ve discussed in this article, you can also refer to these helpful guides: Designing Logos With Color Psychology and Color Theories to Back-up Your Design

Don’t settle on primary hues, either. Use the whole color spectrum to your advantage. You can broaden your color vocabulary and pick the right shade that best conveys your brand’s messaging.


Cynthia Ortiz, a former sales professional turned digital marketing expert, is known for her insightful articles and engaging content creation in business. With a knack for blending business acumen with creative flair, Cynthia's writing style captivates readers with clear, actionable insights. Outside her professional pursuits, she cherishes time with her family and exploring the great outdoors.