The Absolute Essentials of Colour Psychology
Colour psychology something that every creative should know about. Whether you're thinking of rebranding your company, launching a new website or decorating your home, colour psychology will help you make the right decisions, faster. If you've ever suffered from the painful indecision that comes with trying to choose a paint colour for your new sitting room or the frustration of looking for a range of interesting, harmonious and alluring colours for your company logo then you'll love the objectivity and process that colour psychology brings to a creative task.
Essentially colour psychology provides you with a framework to be able to pull together colours, textures, type, pattern and photographic or illustrative styles that will work together. It'll help you communicate consistently and coherently and both reassure and compel your current and prospective customers to do business with you.
Working on the premise that we all feel colour at a subconscious level, colour psychology gives you the tools and know-how to create a particular impression with a particular group of people.
Ultimately it's about marrying up your brand values or intention with a well planned set of colours and other elements to create a coherent and intentional message. You can also use this process to help you create interiors that feel right for you or create the impression you want at that next client meeting.
For example, if I knew that I wanted to create an inspirational and creative studio space I'd use light, bright colours; I'd include plenty of access to natural light and I'd use furniture that was light in tone or construction. Similarly, if I wanted to create an aspirational website for a cutting edge jeweller at the top of his game I'd use colours that had an intensity and clarity to them; geometric shapes and fonts that had a very dramatic tone.
I'm conscious that this is a very long post but I hope that you'll find it helpful. I wanted to create something for you that would act as a point of reference for you over time and that you can refer to again and again. It's such a huge subject that I just can't do it justice in 500 words but what you have here are the absolute essentials. Enjoy!
The Seasonal Personalities
The process starts by identifying the seasonal personality that best fits with either your business brand, or if you were planning an interior, the people that live in the home. I guess you could say that it's about defining your intention first.
In colour psychology there are four main seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and each has their own distinct characteristics and personalities. Once you understand which best represents the message you're trying to communicate you can choose the brand elements (fonts, textures, illustrative styles and so on) that will best represent your business, communicate your values and prove utterly irresistible to your current and prospective clients.
You know how some people just seem to 'effortlessly' pull together design schemes that just work? Well colour psychology provides a game changing structure for the rest of us that need a bit of a helping hand. Let's take a look at each season in turn and then you'll start to see how things fall into place.
The Spring Personality
Creative, inspirational, bursting with energy and full of life, the Spring personality is warm, approachable and fun to be around. Excellent communicators and lovers of clarity and simplicity the Spring personality is often described as spontaneous, proactive and forward thinking.
If your business has a Spring personality you'll need to use light, bright, warm colours that have a softness and delicacy about them. Even the most intense tulip tones will have an air of lightness about them - Spring doesn't take herself too seriously.
The best shapes for Spring are circles and fonts should have a lightness and perhaps curve to them too. Nothing too spiky that's for sure! Textures will be smooth or perhaps have a slight sparkle or shimmer to them, anything that glints in the light is also good. Patterns will be ditsy and again, have a lightness of quality about them and photographs must be light filled and clear.
The Summer Personality
Graceful, elegant, organised and efficient the Summer personality is more reserved in character but all the more thoughtful and intuitive for it. Wonderful in a caring role, excellent with detail and highly creative, the Summer personality feels a strong sense of responsibility and will never let you down.
Summer personalities should use cool, delicate and muted colours with a touch of grey. The Farrow and Ball colour palette with it's endless sea of grey tones is an excellent example of the classiness and quality that the Summer personality brings. Flowing lines, floaty, airy imagery and a softness of tone is very summer and the soft, painterly watercolour style that's so hot right now is suited so well to Summer.
Fonts will have an air of elegance and quality about them, timeless even. Not for Summer the faddy font selections that a Spring personality might pick. Flowing handwriting fonts mixed with fine, traditional serif typefaces are the ideal selections.
Patterns might be soft, faded and loose and unstructured. Anything that has a delicate, floaty look to it is good.
The Autumn Personality
Organic, earthy, warm and passionate perfectly sums up most Autumnal personalities. With a strong connection to nature, a love for the past and thirst for understanding how and why things work (as well as challenging the status quo) the Autumnal personality makes a great campaigner.
The least materialistic of all the seasons, Autumn is nothing if not ambitious. They love to do things well and will often create new and better ways of doing things. Education is important to them and they have a great love of books and the arts.
Warm, intense, muted colours support the Autumn personality and typefaces with substance, texture and a tactile quality are all good. Shapes will be squares with rounded corners and patterns will have an earthy, organic and substantial feel to them. Natural textures are good - uncoated or recycled paper, brown kraft paper bags and rough hewn wood or a coarse linen.
The Winter Personality
Dramatic, opulent, cutting edge and luxurious. And grounded, understated, modest and minimalist. Winter is a season of extremes with an uncompromising and highly focused approach. It's a compelling, distinctive and highly aspirational look, whichever end of the spectrum you're aiming at.
The Winter personality is usually highly focused on the task in hand and excellent at both the big picture and drilling down into the detail. High end fashion, luxury cars or holidays as well as many financial services and banks are Winter personalities.
Colours are bright, intense and clear with a coolness about them, rather like the Winter personality. Geometric shapes, clean lines and an uncluttered and highly intentional look are essential in creating a strong, Winter look. Interestingly, Winter is the only personality that should use black, it looks fabulous for Winter: strong, dynamic, luxurious and market leading. It will just jar with the other personalities.
Using the seasonal personalities to communicate coherently
By using colours from just one season you communicate a highly intentional, confident and powerful message. You can certainly bring in design elements from another season if you feel you need to balance brand values from another season but it's essential that the colours are rooted in one season.
For example, I'm currently working on a Creative Direction project for a market leading children's party entertainer. Of course she will be Spring, it's all about the fun, the creativity and the kids. But she is the market leader and we want her website to have gravitas, so we'll bring in some Winter elements: more intensity in the (still Spring) colours, fonts that have a more definitive edge to them and a strong and directional layout. Light and bright images and fun illustrations will still keep the look very much rooted in children's entertainment but we'll show she means business.
So can you see how if you're say, a blogger looking to up your game and build traction that it'll become easier to discern which products to feature and which images will look right once you understand what season you are? And that understanding what season you are will enable you to communicate consistently and with focus and that's what'll get you noticed.
Suddenly it's less about whether you 'like' something and more about whether it has that (for example) Summer personality vibe. Are the photos and styling soft and delicate? Will it sit well on your blog?
Likewise if you feel as if you've been working on your new website forever or (and this is such a common story) you're three designers in and still nothing seems to be right, colour psychology gives you a very neat and objective framework with which to evaluate what you have right now and move forwards.
What's not to love?
Finding colours that will support your brand values
Once you've established which season your business will be you have a steer on the tones of colours you'll use. Light, bright and clear for Spring, cool, delicate and muted for Summer, warm, intense and muted for Autumn and clear, intense and bright for Winter. Now you need to pick colours that will support your brand values.
For example you'd use a blue for communication, clarity, logic or efficiency - the precise tone would depend on your season. Orange is great for creativity, abundance and fun and green restful, balanced and harmony.
Like to know more?
The Colour for Creatives online course is the perfect workshop to give you a thorough grounding in all of this from the comfort of your home or studio at a pace to suit you. More on this page right here.
I'm running a Colour Psychology for Creatives workshop on Tuesday 30th September and I'd love for you to join me. It promises to be a day full of fun, inspiration and learning. Full details and how to bookin this post.