The power of colour
Take five colours: red, black, blue, green and purple. How do they make you feel? It's a question of supreme significance to designers and marketers. British fashion designer Wayne Hemingway explored this topic in a BBC radio programme about the psychology of colour. You can read a summary of his ideas below. Do you agree with him? Or do you think the meaning of colour depends on the culture you live in?
Red is, of course, considered auspicious in China. But he points out that it's a powerful colour wherever you go, with some serious scientific credentials. Studies have indicated that red "raises blood pressure", and claim that it stands out from other colours thanks to its long wavelength. Hemingway says it appears to be "coming towards you", and so is useful for emergency and alarm signs, and also to for conveying "urgency" in general. That's why he thinks red sale posters seem to yell at us: "Quick, buy it now!"
Black has a different sense. In the West it's associated with death, but that hasn't stopped it becoming a prestigious and mysterious colour. Hemingway says it's the colour of luxury brands: things like "glossy black limousines" and "designer watches" are often black. He says it's "very powerful and sophisticated when used as a primary colour in branding."
Blue, by contrast, is cool and tranquil. The colour is a constant presence in our lives, says Hemingway, being the colour of the sky and the sea. That gives it an air of reliability, which makes it a firm choice with "banks and corporations". Hemingway says this is also why emergency services often choose the colour. A blue uniform can, for example, indicate "the cool competence of a nurse".
Green is, unsurprisingly, the colour of nature and the environment. Marketers understand that giving a product green packaging creates the impression it is enviromentally friendly. But savvy customers are also aware of this - and now think twice before blindly swallowing environmental claims. Hemingway also says that green is the colour of growth and movement: it's used to indicate 'go' on traffic lights.
Finally, we have purple, which is associated with valuable things. In the past, purple dye was expensive because it was very difficult to produce, and it became the colour worn by royalty in many Western countries. These days, companies still use purple to make their product seem more exclusive, whether they're selling chocolate or cigarettes.
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