Boxcitement, as you may have noticed, uses eye-catching colour combinations to make the most of our designs. There’s more to the use of colour than meets they eye…
Colour is everywhere… it can set a mood, attract attention, make a statement, energise, or cool down. Even when we don’t realise it, colour plays a direct role in creating an ambiance and influencing a design… which is why at Boxcitement we spend a lot of time considering and amending the colours we use for each box.
Try this exercise:
Children learn from an early age that red means stop and green means go – so it’s unsurprising that these sentiments are applied to these colours throughout adulthood. As an adult you may see red as aggressive, passionate, or depicting emergency – all emotions that demand a response, and a reaction. Green on the other hand is associated with nature, harmony, and simplicity – ‘going with the flow’.
There are some simple emotive associations of colours we may not even realise we are being influenced by:
Red is symbolic of highly charged personal feelings with aggression, danger and battle on one end and bravery, passion and love on the other. Red alerts us to pay attention. It is provocative, dynamic, stimulating and exciting.
Pale pink represents the sweetness of youth. Pink foods are perceived as sweet-tasting and sweet-smelling. Vibrant pinks are high spirited and express energy.
The old perception of orange is that it represented cheap and low budget. Today, however, orange has come into its own and is perceived as inviting, friendly, and intense. Brighter shades feel fresh and young; pale shades of peach and melon are sophisticated.
Yellow symbolizes energy, warmth and light. Yellow can also be perceived as cheerful, mellow, and soft to the touch. Certain shades of yellow are associated with uncertainty and restlessness. Yellow cautions us to be careful. It is the colour of ideas and dreams and stimulates creativity and confidence.
Brown connects us with the earth and provides a feeling of substance and stability. Some people perceive brown as dirty and undesirable. Foods such as designer coffees, rich breads and rolls, and grains and rice have increased the positive connection to brown.
Green signifies life. It is sensuous and alive. Green is friendly, dependable, and steady. It represents nature and is soothing, refreshing, and healing. Deeper greens signify money, prestige, and power.
Blue is peaceful and tranquil. We respect deep blue as a sign of law, order, and logic. It is dependable, quiet, serene, restful, and cool. Blues such as periwinkle, electric blue, and brilliant blue become dynamic, dramatic and energizing.
Purple is sensual, spiritual, elegant, and mysterious. It can reflect emotions from contemplative to regal and majestic. It is a combination of the excitement and passion of red and the peaceful tranquility of blue.
Neutral colours include beige, grey, and taupe. They portray a sense of durability, quality and a classic sense of nature and quiet. Neutral colours are popular in home living environments due to their restful nature and can complement and offset brighter colours.
White represents purity and simplicity. It portrays the message of clarity and cleanliness. All white rooms, however, can be unsettling and uncomfortable.
Strong, classic and elegant describe our feelings about black. While black is still associated with death and mourning, today, it is also associated with sophistication and strength.
The Colour Wheel
The colour wheel was first devised in 1666 by Sir Isaac Newton, and has been used to help understand the theory and harmony of colour ever since! It is a useful tool for combining colours, the theory being that any colours picked from it will look good together. The most common version uses 12 colours based on the red-yellow-blue colour model. Understanding the position of each colour on the wheel helps make them easy to co-ordinate.
Traditionally, there are various colour combinations that are accepted as looking especially pleasing when used together. These are called colour harmonies, and have a fixed relation next to each other in the colour wheel, for example blue and green.
Colours that play against each other can be used very effectively in design. These are called complementary coloursand are found at opposite ends of the colour wheel, such as orange and blue or red and green. Whilst these can be very dynamic combinations, they can sometimes be a little overbearing at full strength, as the contrast between them creates a very vibrant look. Complementary colours work well when used with care, as they can really make something stand out.
Finally, colours that are three sections apart in the colour wheel are called contrasting colours, such as orange and purple, or blue and yellow. A simple way to pair these together is to make sure one of them is a lighter tint than the other: for example dark purple and bright orange will clash less than a bright violet paired with a bright orange, which could be distracting.
Colours can recede or jump forward, which is important to know when sitting coloured text on a coloured background as it can help or impede legibility. Dark colours such as black, navy and brown tend to recede, while yellow, orange and red will step forward; this is why if you have a bright orange background it will be difficult to read any text or imagery placed on it, as the orange will fight for dominance.
Primary, secondary and tertiary colours
As mentioned before, colour wheels employ the red-yellow-blue colour model; this means that the primary colours are red yellow and blue. These colours can’t be created by mixing other hues together; they are pure and consequently tend to be bright and impactful.
Secondary colours are created when two primary colours are mixed, creating green, orange and purple.
By mixing primary and secondary colours together, we can create tertiary colours – the remaining colours on the wheel.
In essence, primary colours are vibrant, saturated and eye-catching, whilst tertiary colours are more subtle and less demanding on the eye.
Warm and cool colours
The colour wheel can be divided into warm colours – the reds, oranges and yellows – and cool colours which consist of greens, blues and purples. Warm colours are perceived as being vivid and energetic, and tend to advance and ‘pop out’ whilst cool colours are more recessive and give an impression of calm.
White, grey and black are considered to be neutral colours and as such work well with any other colours on the spectrum as they don’t create clashes.
Tints, shades and tones
If a colour is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint; if it is made darker by adding black the result is ashade. If grey or a mix of colours is used, the result is a different tone. Whilst these terms can seem unnecessarily complicated, it can be useful to understand their meanings when using image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop which uses these terms in colour correction tools.
Using colour effectively
More often than not, correct use of colour is about using gut instinct. A restaurant aimed at the children’s/family market will probably want to use bright colours in their branding, thereby associating themselves with their audience and creating an environment which appeals to children. Similarly, top-end restaurants will tend to use a much more subdued palette, the bright reds replaced with darker and richer burgundies, and vibrant yellows becoming neutrals.
A business that markets itself on being environmentally friendly, such as renewable energy or a recycling company, may want to use ‘earthy’ tones, which are colours synonymous with the outdoors. Conversely a firm which makes brightly coloured plastics may choose a palette that relates directly to their product. Choosing the wrong colour for your brand could prevent you from standing out, in a crowded environment. A good place to start is to look at competitors or other businesses within the same industry; is there a common theme in the colours and tones of these brands? Do you want to look like them to create a synergy for your brand, or contrast to help you stand out? Creative designers are trained in the use and importance of colour and should be able to guide and advise when deciding on the use of colour for the first time.
Next time you see something you just ‘like’ and you’re not sure why, have a think… what colour is it?
Emotional Reactions to Color by Kathy Lamancusa creativelatitude.com (emotive associations of colour)
Basic Colour Theory colourmatters.com
Introduction to Colour Theory tigercolor.com