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The Somewhat Mysterious and Altogether Ambiguous Art of Selecting the “Right Color”

By: Chris Pandis
Posted: April 7, 2011, from the April 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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First, there are some basic principles. The science of semiotics suggests that color, just like any sign or symbol, can have a direct effect on emotions and that each one of you responds to the stimulus of color in a certain way. People tend to be attracted by some colors and repelled or disturbed by others. The differences may arise from deep-seated personality traits, life experiences, basic desires and even subconscious mental processes.

Color can signal certain subtle differences in familiar scenes, giving you information about what you see. A lush green forest impresses you with its health and vitality, but when the same forest view is tinged with yellow, you see it as unhealthy, even if nothing else has changed. If the colors are bright orange, red and yellow, you assume you are seeing the forest in the autumn and, although you know the leaves are dying, you feel a warm, positive response. If those same colors, on the other hand, appear dull or pale, you respond to it more negatively.

In other situations, a person’s response to color may be conditioned by culture or national origin. In many parts of the world, red inspires strong feelings of excitement and danger. However, red can stir other emotions too. In China, red is all about power, prestige and happiness. Red is the color of weddings, lucky money envelopes and the Chinese New Year. Koreans, on the other hand, are unique in the world in associating red with innovation. Thus, while red evokes traditional images among Chinese, Koreans connect red to the future and technology.

These differences in perception and response are important when it comes to branding and differentiation. Using color well can contribute to or reinforce the values of a brand. A small failure, on the other hand, may cause significant damage.

What Do People Want?

Beyond the basic semiotic principles, there is another layer that needs to be considered. It is one that constantly shifts and changes as the world economy, technology, natural and man-made catastrophes, popular culture and other developments make their imprint on the psyche of consumers. What will the world want to buy in the coming year? And how will consumers decide between two similar products? These are the questions that designers and brand managers struggle with perennially.