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    It is said that the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and the psychology of colour is as ancient as the Egyptians. They studied their effect on mood and used colour to accomplish holistic benefits. In Egyptian art, ‘colours were not used randomly but were intended to convey meaning and imbue an image with greater power.’ (Jenny Hill, 2010). Therefore, it is no surprise that marketeers combine images and text with clever colour combinations as a persuasive element in branding.

    The organisation of colour was a concept originally attributed to Sir Isaac Newton in 1704. His Colour Circle has now become a spectrum of over 2000 shades as depicted in Pantone’s universal colour matching system.

    Isaac Newton’s Colour Circle, published in Optcicks in 1704

    Choosing a colour for your brand is difficult but, once you’ve decided, you need to be aware that the medium can affect how that colour is reproduced. The combination of RGB light creates white, while the combination of CMYK inks creates black. CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) is a physical pigment, ie paint on canvas or ink on a press. Conversely, RGB (red, green, blue) is for the digital medium of monitors, TV screens, digital cameras and scanners. Therefore, it is physically impossible for the printing press to exactly reproduce colours as we see them on our monitors. And further, monitors and digital printers need to be calibrated to achieve the best recreation of your design colour.

    Since the year 2000 Pantone have selected a ‘Colour of the Year’ which no doubt can influence fashionistas, product developers and designers across a multitude of industries. PANTONE 19-4052 chosen for 2020 must have been prophetic: ‘A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience’. I wonder what they will come up with next? 

    It is a minefield; a graphic designer must consider all the above, ie the medium they are designing for, as well as their clients’ objectives. Colours can also trigger certain emotions which is very useful in order to attract the ideal customer. Applying certain colour schemes can build a strong affinity for the brand, and using combinations of colours across backgrounds, text and accents can elicit repeatable reactions by customers. 


    Colour (and design) is foremost an art, and art is always subjective. Due care should be taken when aligning colour with a brand as colours can be perceived differently by individuals and cultures. For example, green in Western culture is associated with the environment and luck but in Indonesia it is regarded as a forbidden colour, representing infidelity and exorcism. Yellow in most areas is associated with optimism and fun but in Egypt and Latin America it is linked to death and mourning. However, we shouldn’t get too caught up in all of this. Of course, colour is an important element in a brand’s visual identity; but it needs to be aligned with logic, purpose and appropriateness to support what the brand wants to portray. Being creative is just as important as the science.


    As your potential client reclines on the sofa or under a parasol or is browsing Waterstones – possibly lost in Jane Austen’s Persuasion – the psychology of colour can influence hunger, thirst, or what book to buy next. So, if you want to influence loyalty, or respect, or persuade someone to hit that Checkout button, think about how powerful colour choices can be when designing your brand.

    Alison Drury