The Use of Colour in Graphic Design
the use of colour in graphic design
Of all the parts that make up a visual design, colour is one of the most important - it's a powerful communication tool. In the same way that the perfect shade of paint can transform a room, the right colour can trigger the desired action from a customer. Let's take a look at what different colours can mean.

So, how important is the use of colour in graphic design? Of all the parts that make up a visual design, colour is one of the most important – it’s a powerful communication tool. Colour psychology is a heavily researched subject -studies have shown that colour can impact our feelings and perceptions. According to market research, the brain recognises and processes colours ahead of shape and wording. Colour is vital in helping people retain information and in influencing mood, feelings and behaviour. 

Designers use colour schemes to emphasise particular areas of a design to evoke a mood or emotion in the viewer. The selective use of colour can create balance and consistency. All companies employ colour in their branding – from their website to physical products. So it bodes well to choose colours that synchronise with the business’s mission. In the same way that the perfect shade of paint can transform a room, the right colour can trigger the desired action from a customer.

Colours in Graphic Design

Many studies suggest that there is a strong link between colours and emotions. Here are some common colours used in graphic design and an overview of their meanings.

Red

Red is a warm colour and one of the most visible colours of the spectrum. It is associated with both passion and danger. Red increases heart rate and creates a feeling of urgency, provoking action. Because red is one of the loudest colours, it can be overpowering and should be used as a complementary addition to the design – unless the brief calls for it, of course!

Yellow

Yellow is a warm and eye-catching colour associated with happiness, youth and optimism. It is often used in advertising aimed at children and for promoting special offers to catch customers attention. Yellow is also associated with caution – it is widely used on hazard and caution signs. However, this is because it is hard to miss rather than any emotional effects. It is predominantly a happy, fun and smiley colour.

Blue

Blue is a cool colour that has a soothing and relaxing effect. It is strongly associated with trust, integrity and maturity. When you look for it, you will notice that a lot of large organisations use blue in their branding – from Facebook to Ford. However, different shades of blue evoke different emotions – light blue: calm and relaxing, bright blue: energy and vitality, dark blue: strength and balance. Overall, blue creates a sense of security and conveys professionalism, reliability and truthfulness.

Orange

Orange sits between red and yellow on the spectrum, and accordingly, it combines the cheerfulness of yellow with the excitement of red. It grabs your attention in a subtle, warm way and is associated with confidence and friendliness. Orange is used in design to evoke feelings of energy, intensity and focus.

Green

Green is a cool colour and, like blue, it has a calming effect. It is associated with nature, growth and renewal. Green can evoke feelings of hope, clarity, generosity and good judgement. The colour green is often used as a signal of positivity or safety, like a green traffic light. As a colour heavily associated with nature, it is regularly used by brands that want to promote a connection to nature or eco-friendly business practices.

Purple

Purple is a warm colour with an overall calming effect on the mind. However, as with a lot of colours, the meaning fluctuates depending on the shade. Darker tones are associated with royalty and nobility – evoking a sense of sophistication, luxury and dignity. That being said, darker shades of purple can also represent sadness and frustration, especially when the blue begins to overpower the red. Lighter shades of purple lean towards femininity or romanticism, due to the red being more pronounced. As such, lighter purples can convey a sense of sentimentality, softness and approachability.  

Black

Black is neither a warm nor cool colour, it isn’t technically a colour at all. It is a neutral colour, often used in design for its clarity and because it contrasts well with bright colours that may otherwise be overpowering. Black is the traditional colour of mourning but is also associated with exclusivity, luxury and wealth. In branding, black is used to signify elegance, quality and sophistication – think black tie events. 

White

White is opposite to black on the colour spectrum. Similarly to black, it compliments almost any colour. White represents purity, freshness, innocence and peace. When used as a primary colour, white can give a professional and sharp appearance. As an accent colour, white can offset bright colours without overpowering their meaning. 

Grey

Grey is a balanced and neutral colour that can convey a sense of dependability and security. It has the power of both black and white – but less sombre than black and louder than white. Emotionally, grey is associated with loss and depression, however, in graphic design grey is used predominantly as a neutral colour to assist other colours. Grey is often used in typography and to add formality, objectivity and sophistication. 

Summary of colours in graphic design

The use of colour in graphic design is a complex and detailed examination of many factors. When used in a considered manner, graphic designers can apply their knowledge of these emotional connections to make their designs more effective. By considering other aspects of colour theory such as complementary colours, colour harmony, tints and shades, you start to understand why thoughtful use of colour in graphic design is important. A good graphic designer will work with you to understand your message and the best colours to convey that message. 

What colours are best for your brand?

Consider your brand message along with your target audience when choosing colours. What is the message you want to get across? The subliminal effects of colour can’t be underestimated – use them to elevate your message. If you are unsure what colours to use in a campaign, it’s a good idea to work with a graphic designer who can help you get your message across. However, it is important that you work together on colour choices, keeping in mind all of the factors above. Simply using blue because you like it, or always have, is not reason enough that it is best for your campaign. 

One more thing

It is important to be mindful that colour associations are not universal, they can be culturally specific. In the UK, America and Europe, for example, red symbolises love and passion; in China, it symbolises luck and fertility; and in African cultures, it can symbolise death, grief and violence. And according to a review on colour psychology, perception of colour is not limited to cultural factors but also incorporates personal experience, upbringing and personal preferences. Because of this, choosing colours in graphic design should be a thoughtful and considered endeavour, taking into account your target audience. When working with a graphic designer it is important to discuss your audience and brand message in detail.

about lvfg creative

I’m Lou, a freelance graphic designer based in Kent, UK. I work collaboratively with clients of all sizes.

After years of working in offices, I decided to take my skills freelance. It’s great to work with a mixture of clients across different sectors. 

I love working with great people to help their businesses thrive. I work closely with my clients to create high-quality work that meets the objectives and develop long-lasting relationships.

Sound good? Let’s work together.

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