Colors and emotions are closely linked. Warm colours can evoke different emotions than cool colours and bright colours can create different feelings than muted colours. It all depends on how the psychological effects of colour are being used.
Colors can make us feel happy or sad, and they can make us feel hungry or relaxed. These reactions are rooted in psychological effects, biological conditioning and cultural imprinting.
That’s why it’s important to understand the psychological effects colours might have on an average person as well as the fundamentals of colour theory and the meanings of colours.
Let’s have a look at how colours make you feel and what impact colours can have on our emotions.
Colours and emotions
The way different colours can affect emotions depends largely on a colour’s brightness, shade, tint or tone and whether it’s cool or warm toned. Let’s take a look at some of the effects colours can have on how you feel:
Red, orange and yellow are next to each other on the wheel and are all warm colours. Warm colours often evoke feelings of happiness, optimism and energy. However, yellow, red and orange can also have an attention grabbing effect and signal danger or make you take action (think stop signs, hazard warnings and barrier tape). Red can also increase a person’s appetite.
Cool colours include green, blue, and purple. Cool colours are usually calming and soothing but can also express sadness. Purple is often used to help spark creativity as it’s a mixture of blue (calm) and red (intense). If a company wants to display health, beauty or security, incorporate these colours.
Happy colours are bright, warm colours like yellow, orange, pink and red. Pastel colours like peach, light pink or lilac can also have an uplifting effect on your mood. The brighter and lighter a colour, the more happy and optimistic it will make you feel. Another way colours can create happy emotions is by combining multiple primary and secondary colours together for a youthful, colourful effect.
Sad colours are colours that are dark and muted. Grey is the quintessential sad colour, but dark and muted cool colours like blue, green or neutrals like brown or beige can have a similar effect on feelings and emotions depending on how they’re used. In Western cultures black is often considered the colour of mourning, whereas in some East Asian countries it’s white.
Cool colours like blue and green can make you feel calm. Pastel colours and particularly cool toned pastels like baby blue, lilac and mint have a calming and relaxing effect. Neutrals like white, beige and grey can also make you feel calm. The fewer colours you combine and the more simple and pared back a design is, the more calming it will feel.
Strong, bright colours and neon colours can have a powerful effect on emotions. Colors like bright red, bright yellow and neon green can feel energising and make you feel more alert, but can also be irritating on the eyes. These colours will grab your attention and stand out from their surroundings. Highly pigmented, strong colours like royal blue, turquoise, magenta and emerald green can also have a stimulating effect and make you feel refreshed and energised.
How colours make you feel ?
Next, let’s dive into the emotions and feelings different colours can evoke.
Red makes you feel passionate and energised.
Red is the warmest and most dynamic of the colours—it triggers opposing emotions. It is often associated with passion and love as well as anger and danger. It can increase a person’s heart rate and make them excited.
If you want to draw attention to a design element, use red. But use it as an accent colour in moderation as it can be overwhelming.
Orange makes you feel energised and enthusiastic.
Orange enhances a feeling of vitality and happiness. Like red, it draws attention and shows movement but is not as overpowering. It is aggressive but balanced — it portrays energy yet can be inviting and friendly. Orange is great for a call to action to buy or subscribe to a product.
Yellow makes you feel happy and spontaneous.
Yellow is perhaps the most energetic of the warm colours. It is associated with laughter, hope and sunshine. Accents of yellow help give your design energy and will make the viewer feel optimistic and cheerful. However, yellow tends to reflect more light and can irritate a person’s eyes. Too much yellow can be overwhelming and should be used sparingly. In design, it is often used to grab attention in an energetic and comforting way.
Green makes you feel optimistic and refreshed.
Green symbolises health, new beginnings and wealth. Green is the easiest on the eyes and should be used to relax and create balance in a design. It is a great colour to use if a company wants to depict growth, security or inspire possibility. Green can also feel calming and relaxing.
Blue makes you feel safe and relaxed.
Blue evokes feelings of calmness and spirituality as well as security and trust. Seeing the colour blue causes the body to create chemicals that are calming. It is no surprise that it’s the most favoured of the colours. Dark blues are great for corporate designs because it helps give a professional feel, but using too much can create a cold, disengaged feeling. Light blues give a more relaxing, friendly feel. Great examples are social sites like Facebook and Twitter who use lighter blues.
Purple makes you feel creative.
Purple is associated with mystery, creativity, royalty and wealth. Lighter shades of purple are often used to soothe or calm a viewer, hence why it is used in beauty products. Incorporate purple to make a design look more luxurious and wealthy or a lighter purple to show romance and mystery.
Pink makes you feel playful and romantic.
Pink represents femininity and romance, sensitivity and tenderness. It’s inherently sweet, cute and charming.
Brown makes you feel down to earth.
Brown creates a sense of stability and support. It’s warm and friendly, practical and dependable, and can also represent the old fashioned and well established.
Black feels sophisticated, classic and serious.
Black evokes power, luxury, elegance, but can also mean professionalism, neutrality and simplicity. It’s bold, powerful and is often used to evoke mystery. In certain contexts and cultures the colour black can also refer to mourning or sadness.
White means minimalism and simplicity. Using a lot of white colour in design creates a minimalist aesthetic and can result a simple, fresh and clean look.
In many cultures, white is used to refer to virginity, purity and innocence (think bridal gowns and baby clothes). It’s also the most neutral colour of all.
Gray feels serious and professional.
Gray is a more mature, responsible colour. Its positive connotations include formality and dependability, while the negative side can mean being overly conservative, conventional and lacking in emotion. It’s safe and quite subdued, serious and reserved.
Colors and feelings are inextricably linked
It is important to note that colours can be subjective—what might make one person feel cheerful can make another person feel irritated depending on the viewers’ past experiences or cultural differences.
Colour is not completely agreed on universally and can appeal differently to individual countries.
But colours and emotions are closely linked no matter what, so you need to take their effects into account whenever you are using colours.
Now that you know how colours and emotions are connected, you can choose colours accordingly and get the results you’re looking for.
* Illustration by M.Wart