In March’s issue, Nvate discussed how people across various cultures tend to associate certain colors with specific qualities. Scientists have been especially interested in red, which we associate with sex or aggression depending on the context, as well as pink, which has become blatantly tied to merchandise for young girls.
However, colors across the entire spectrum influence our perception of the world around us, whether we consciously notice the effect or not. We can use our knowledge of color perception to influence our mood for the better, according to certain therapists. Plus, businesses take color into serious consideration with their branding, advertising, and interior decorating.
The Business of Coloring
If you give a child a coloring book, they’ll probably open it up, take the first good-looking crayon they find, and get to work. Businesses, on the other hand, have to deliberate on the color of their logos, websites, and stores if they want to be as successful as possible.
In the previous article, it was explained how a research study found that placing items for sale online against a blue background as opposed to a red background can help calm the customer, making them less aggressive when hunting for bargain prices.
This shouldn’t be too surprising because blue is by far the world’s most popular color, according to CompuServe.com. Specifically, 42 percent of males and 30 percent of females around the globe claim it’s their color of choice. The website goes on to note that, across cultures, it is the least disliked color out there. Discovery.com speculates that the human love for blue might be a natural evolutionary result of blue skies meaning fair, safe weather.
With this in mind, is it such a surprise that many of the biggest names in the business world have blue logos? Just look at Wal-Mart, Sony, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other companies. And although Microsoft’s logo itself consists of a variety of colors, its latest Windows logo is sky blue. Google is similar in that, with its colorful logo, blue is still the emphasis—just look at the first letter.
Credit: Peyton Brown
It’s worth pointing out that you’ll find some pinches of red in the logos as well. That might not be a coincidence: red and green are the world’s follow-ups in the favorite color contest, as CompuServe.com explained.
Another point of interest is how many companies who chose to use blue in their logo don’t sell products of any certain color. It’s not as if vehicles from Ford or Volvo are all the same color, and it’s not as if Windows, AT&T, and Allstate are tangible services. So, any color choice for the logo could have made sense, but they stuck with good ol’ true blue.
Yet, when choosing which color to make something, whether it be a logo, wall, or website, it’s not as easy as splattering blue all over the place. When possible, companies can try to find colors that people associate with whatever product it is they sell. For instance, if a business is closely related to nature, then it can use a green logo.
Color associations with products should also be taken into account when decorating the insides of buildings. Elixir, a chain of juice bars originating in New York, used color well enough to earn a spot in the magazine Interior Design.
Specifically, designer Wid Chapman explained that the juice bar’s “lively palette of blue, purple, green, and red evokes the colors of the fruit- and vegetable-flavored beverages being served.” The result is not only pretty but also contributes to the “berry-oriented” atmosphere of Elixir, as Chapman went on to note.
The colors are also bright, bold, eye-catching, and fun rather than subtle or downright muted. This vivid quality is in line with research from experts Patricia Valdez and Albert Mehrabian, who found in a research study that people tend to prefer bright shades of colors over dark ones.
Yet, just as a business shouldn’t rely solely on blue because people usually like it, a business shouldn’t rely solely on bright colors. Surely commonsense tells us that walking into a bank where everything is vivid and rainbow-like wouldn’t give off a professional feel. In fact, it might be downright annoying. Why? Because bright colors used excessively or in the wrong places can be distracting.
A brief study performed by psychologists Ilanit Tal, Katherine Akers, and Gordon Hodge demonstrated this clearly through a simple but clever method. In their experiment, students had to take exams on different colors of paper. The students who performed the exams on vividly-colored paper had lower grades than students with muted-color paper. The difference was statistically significant, perhaps because the vivid colors brought undue attention to themselves and made it difficult for the students to concentrate.
So, whether you’re a teacher thinking about using colorful paper or a business thinking about using colorful interior designs, be sure to ask yourself whether the color usage would be attention-grabbing or just distracting.
And of course, any professional graphic designer who hasn’t studied color in detail would get a pink slip from any business that doesn’t want to be in the red.
It’s amazing, really, that a simple thing like color could demand so much attention from a business that’s trying to perform the very best it can. The company must consider people’s color preferences across cultures, the associations naturally evoked by colors, the proper use of shading with colors, and the specific goals behind the logo or product being colored.
In light of this, there is even a business devoted to businesses and color. Colorcom, “the color consultant experts,” describe themselves on their website as people, “devoted to helping businesses find the right color for logos, interior design, products, and more.” They note that companies should examine color preferences across demographics such as age, race, and gender. For example, even though we can’t be sure why, men and women increasingly dislike the color orange as they age. Businesses such as Colorcom take this into account.
Counseling with Flying Colors
If businesses can use color to evoke certain emotions in their customers, then it only stands to reason that you can use color to evoke certain emotions in yourself. This can be used for therapeutic purposes—or to simply help set the mood for certain occasions.
For decades, scientists have known that color can have a verifiable, measurable effect on how our brains work. In 1976, a paper presented at the Third International Architectural Psychology Conference asserted that a room’s color can literally affect a person’s heart and mind. In the experiment, colorful rooms decreased alpha-brain wave activity on an EEG and lowered heart rates on an EKG for participants. Conversely, gray rooms increased brain wave activity and raised heart rates. Therefore, art therapist Rebecca Withrow believes that emphasizing certain colors, especially natural ones, can have a therapeutic effect in interior design.
Psychologist Arthur J. Clark gave a few suggestions as to how we can add vivid, but natural color, to our lives. We can paint, care for tropical fish, and plant colorful gardens outside our windows. We should also try to decorate boring office spaces if possible.
Clark noted that some of his patients seem to be especially sensitive to colors. In particular, if a patient is able to specifically describe various colors in their earliest memories, then this is a sign that color has even more influence on their mood than it does for the average person.
Counselors should be aware if they have a color-sensitive patient. Their need to avoid colors they find disturbing isn’t just an inconvenient quirk, and suddenly losing interest in a certain color isn’t just a little change in preference. A dull and dreary work environment could be especially taxing on such people. Plus, they might be especially touchy if they’re arguing over interior design with a roommate or romantic partner, which of course can lead to other emotional issues.
On the bright side, though, color can be especially helpful in lifting these people’s moods. For anybody, in fact, a dash of “art therapy” might be exactly what the doctor ordered. This form of therapy is often used in conjunction with other treatment plans.
Withrow believes that having her patients mold, paint, draw, collage, or sculpt to show their inner emotions and conflicts can be more helpful than talk alone. After all, not everyone has the vocabulary and verbal skills necessary to voice their emotions accurately, which can impede the progress of talk therapy.
Art therapy can tackle a number of different forms, including painting. A vivid spectrum of colors tends to be helpful.
In Withrow’s case, she encourages patients to take on “nonrepresentational” art projects, which don’t have to look like anything in particular. They can simply be a splash of colorful emotion on the page or on whichever medium the patient chooses.
How they proceed to make the art and which colors they choose can help illuminate their feelings. For instance, Withrow noted that depressed people tend to use less color in their paintings, and children who have just survived a life-threatening incident are more likely to opt for red and black.
She believes that art therapy can help people sort out their emotions if they can appreciate the beauty of all colors rather than back away from certain ones. This implies that interior decorating gives off the happiest feelings not from relying mostly on yellow, which most people consider a happy color, but rather from a delectable variety of hues.
Shady Color Claims
Although the amount of influence color can have on us is incredible, we shouldn’t be too quick to overestimate this power, lest we fall into the trap of pseudoscience. For example, Yazhu Ling, a vision scientist at the University of East Anglia, warns that “you see loads of articles online about what color you like and what that says about what kind of person you are. There is [actually not] scientific support for that.”
Why people prefer different colors over others is still a mystery, according to Discovery.com. Personal experience might have something to do with it. Karen Schloss, a graduate student in psychology at the University of California, found that people with school spirit tend to prefer their own school’s colors over those of rivals. But further research is needed on the subject, so it’s too early to make any definitive statements about a person based on their favorite color.
We should also step away from chromotherapy, which is sometimes called color therapy. It claims that we can heal ailments from shoulder pain to allergies and from flu symptoms to chronic fatigue by shining specific colors of light on certain body parts. These are called spiritual centers, or chakras.
For instance, shining a violet light on the crown of your head may increase your wisdom, and shining an orange light on your groin could help your libido, as Angela Burt-Murray of Essence magazine explained—herself skeptical. Other forms of chromotherapy treatment involve taking baths in colored water or placing colorful gems on the body.
While Cancer.org acknowledges that blue light can treat newborns with high levels of bilirubin in their blood, it asserts that no scientific evidence supports the idea that chromotherapy can treat any illness.
In addition to looking out for pseudoscience, we shouldn’t assume that something’s color makes its destiny right then and there. For example, the video game company Sega ultimately lost to Nintendo despite the fact it bore a blue logo as opposed to a supposedly aggressive red one. Plus, Amazon has a yellow logo while YouTube has a red one, and those websites are performing OK, to say the least.
Still, if you’re hoping to create a certain mood for yourself or for your customers, color is an important factor to consider.
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