|Regardless of which colours are in fashion, nearly everyone has a strong opinion concerning colour. We all have our favourite colours, or colours we don't care for. A person's colour preference is also dependent on demographic factors, such as age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic level. In addition, colour preference can be affected by external factors such as climate. In sunny warm climates, people tend to prefer strong warm colours, whereas in colder cloudy climates, soft cool colours are favoured.
Colour responses are learned and, as our age and socio-economic status increase, our response to colour can change. It is important to note that a specific response to a particular colour will vary tremendously depending on where and how that colour is utilised. A colour used in apparel can elicit a very different response when used in interior design.
In spite of a person's demographic profile and external factors, research has shown that particular colours affect everyone in predictable and measurable ways. We are born with a basic response to colour. Because of the way in which the human eye functions, all colours are viewed as either having a yellow or blue base. For example, there are yellow-based and blue-based reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, blues and greens.
Red. Pastel’s, pale blues, pinks and yellows are the predominant colours used in marketing nursery items and baby clothes. However, red might be a better choice. Research has shown that the colour red can stimulate a baby's brain and aid in neural development. Red is the first colour a baby is able to discern. Interestingly, there is a gender bias as well. Male babies have an inherent preference to yellow-based reds, whereas female babies consistently prefer blue-based reds. Over their lifetime some males will shift their preference from yellow based reds to blue-based reds. When used as an interior colour, red tends to distort time. People stay longer in a red environment, hence the ubiquitous red décor in lounges and casinos. Studies indicate that our sense of taste is enhanced in a red environment.
Pink is a calming colour which has a temporary but significant effect on stress and anger. It has been used effectively in jails and prisons because of this calming influence. Pink also causes people to highly value certain things. Sweet foods taste better when placed on a pink tablecloth or placemat.
Blue. There are very few blue foods found in nature and so it is not surprising that blue is not an effective colour for a restaurant. It tends to suppress the appetite. The colour causes the brain to release tranquilizing hormones and can be used effectively in hospitals and dentists' offices. Pale blues encourage fantasy. It is the colour preferred by most Westerners. If not too dark, a blue surrounding increases productivity. Studies show that students score higher and retain more information when reading blue text. Weight lifters lift heavier weights in blue rooms. In apparel, dark blue denotes credibility, responsibility and trust. In the middle ages, blue was a difficult dye colour to achieve and it became associated with a high level of socio-economic and moral achievement. Today, it is an excellent colour apparel choice for a job interview, an attorney or a police officer.
Brown is a ubiquitous colour that appears in many forms. Chocolate, bread, coffee and cola, all are shades of brown making it a very consumable colour that elicits many positive responses. Brown can successfully be used in china, interiors, exteriors and apparel. Brown creates an open and friendly atmosphere. Interestingly, research has shown that when people wear brown, they are asked more questions. Brown might be a good colour to wear on a covert mission, in which gathering information is a key activity.
Grey is the colour for creativity. In a grey environment, creative people are more creative for longer periods of time than in any other colour tested. Many people have developed a prejudice against grey. The colour is associated with unpleasant experiences caused from grey surroundings such as storm clouds and raging winds. This prejudice has carried over to many other areas. In apparel, grey is seen as formal and respectable. Maybe there was something to the old adage, other than navy blue, there is no colour better suited to business wear than a grey suit.
Black is a colour with widely varying associations. Some people associate black with evil, for others it is the colour of mourning and despair. When used in apparel, black symbolizes power, authority and wisdom. No wonder black is the choice colour for police uniforms and priests. Black might not be the best political move for the junior executive interviewing with the chairman of the board.
White evokes many positive responses. The colour white denotes delicacy and refinement. White is the symbol for purity, chastity and cleanliness. For formal apparel, white or white combined with black is one of the most sophisticated looks you can achieve.
Colours with unique power can be categorized as being either a classifying colour or a declassifying colour. Classifying colours appeal to a relatively small number of people, whereas declassifying colours, such as yellow and orange, appeal to a relatively large segment of the population.
Orange is composed of 50% red and 50% yellow and is considered to be a declassifying colour. Yellow-based oranges known as “pumpkin”, elicit friendly responses. They are also attention grabbers. A product that is the colour of a yellow-based orange is seen as inexpensive; hence it is often used in cheap motels and fast food chains. It can also be used to make an expensive product seem more affordable.
A blue-based orange also known as “terracotta” is an upgrade version of orange which looks friendly but not cheap. It can give an informal appearance to an expensive product without compromising the appearance of quality.
Because yellow-based oranges are attention getters and evoke friendly responses, they are excellent choices for uniforms and recreational clothing. It can be a bit more challenging to dress up orange for formal attire.
Yellow is also a declassifying colour. Yellow can be used with wonderful results to grab someone's attention. It is frequently used with black to indicate caution and danger (mimicking nature's bees and poisonous snakes). However, yellow reflects light resulting in excessive stimulation of the eye, causing eye fatigue and irritation. It also speeds up a person's metabolism. In a yellow room, babies cry more and adults lose their tempers quicker and for a longer duration. Have you ever wondered why school buses are painted a yellow-orange colour with black accents? Research has shown that people who drive yellow cars are less likely to be hit by another car. With these responses, you might imagine that yellow can be a tricky apparel colour.
Green is the colour of life and nature. There are many different greens. People's response can drastically change depending on the value (how light or dark a colour appears), as well as the context in which the colour is utilized. Dark greens are classifying colours and therefore, only a limited number of people respond positively. Only 3% of the population responds favourably to dark blue-green, but it is the upper socio-economic 3% of the population.
Green is an excellent colour to be worn by health care professionals in an operating room. For every colour the eye focuses on, the eye sees an after-image. The complimentary colour or opposite colour is seen in the after-image, allowing the eye recovery time. In the brightly lit operating room, workers concentrate on exposed body tissue. The opposite colour of body tissue is surgical green, which aids the eye in the replenishment of vision. For every profession in which concentration is required (e.g. extensive work on a computer), colours that aid in visual compensation should be considered.
Green in everyday apparel can present problems. The colour that is reflected from a green garment is for the most part unkind to complexions. Few people can wear green next to their face without appearing nauseated; therefore, it is probably better confined to the lower half of the body.
It has long been acknowledged that nature brilliantly uses colour to attract mates as well as ward off predators. Flowers are specific colours to attract insects so that pollination will occur. Insects appear in specific colour combinations to ward off birds and other potential predators. As in nature, human beings have an innate response to colour. Colour is the first thing we notice, and elicits a psychological and emotional response. Knowing the ways in which people respond to colour can be a powerful marketing and design tool.
Carlton Wagner, Director of the Wagner Institute for Colour Research, Chicago IL
Faber Birren, The power of colour: how it can reduce fatigue, relieve monotony, enhance sexuality, and more.