Colors Evoke Emotions
Reactions to colors are based on a variety of factors that can be summarized as experiences, context, and trends. Experiences are specific to your audience - their age, gender, cultural background, and personal preferences. Context is the environment in which the color is viewed, such as against a particular background. Trends are the societal factors that influence color perception, such as a color being associated with a particular activist movement.
While you won’t be able to control all of these factors, taking them into consideration can help you make better color selections. To help with this, these are some generally accepted color interpretations to start with:
Red Passion, Love, Anger, Danger
Orange Excitement, Creativity, Warmth
Yellow Happiness, Sunshine, Caution
Green Nature, Health, Money
Blue Tranquility, Purity, Sadness
Violet Luxury, Mystery, Depth
Some of these emotions may seem contradictory, but that’s where context becomes important. Yellow used against a white background feels inviting while yellow against black may feel cautionary.
Similarly, you can consider how your audience’s experiences may influence their perception. For example, the color pink is often associated with breast cancer awareness.
Color harmony is the affective response people have to colors and color combinations. For marketers, successful use of color harmony can result in more clicks and conversions.
Digital materials use the Red-Green-Blue (RGB) color model. In RGB, the complementary colors are: Red and Cyan; Green and Magenta; Blue and Yellow.
Complementary colors are those which contrast most greatly, making them stand out. They are best used sparingly, such as with a button you want your users to click.
Complementary colors can be overwhelming when overused, and as such should not be used as text or in large doses.
This image demonstrates the impact of using complementary colors sparingly. Notice how your eyes are drawn to the yellow parts of the page - this is where your call-to-action should be.
Warm vs. Cool Colors
Warm colors range from red to yellow, including orange and brown. These colors are typically seen as dynamic, energetic, and stimulating.
Cool colors range from green to purple, including blue and gray. These colors are typically seen as peaceful, comfortable, and serene.
Warm and cool colors tend to complement one another, especially if a warm color is shown in the context of a cool environment or vice versa.
These icons stand out from their backgrounds by contrasting their warm and cool colors. Viewers will naturally be drawn to these types of icons, increasing their awareness of them and thus their likeliness to click them.
Triadic colors are a set of three colors that compliment each other. When using a triadic palette, allow one color to be the main focus and use the other two sparingly as accents.
Two commonly used palettes are: Violet, Orange, and Green; Red, Yellow, and Blue.
An example of how you might use triadic colors is to establish violet as your main brand color, with a call to action button that is orange when not in use and green when scrolled over. Subtle variations such as this influence the viewer’s perception in a way that entices them to click through.
Color Theory and Your CTAs
While there are many more color theory models you could use, these three concepts - complementary colors, warm vs. cool colors, and triadic colors - are a great place to start. Follow these steps to put your new knowledge into action.
- Choose a color to be your primary focus.
- Add one color as an accent based on one of the color theory models discussed.
- Add one more accent color, again based on these models.
- Use Color 1 to set the appropriate context on your website or landing page. Establish this context by using a neutral background with this color for the text of your navigation menu, headlines, or key graphics. Or, depending on the color, you may even want to use this color as the background itself.
- Use Color 2 sparingly to highlight the actionable items on the page - your desired conversions. This may be a call-to-action button (Shop Now, Download, and so on), or an actionable icon (shopping cart, home button, and such). If you use Color 1 as your background, that doesn’t mean you should use Color 2 as your text! Remember, the idea is to make these CTAs pop using contrast, so overusing them will negate the effect.
- Finally, use Color 3 even more sparingly to reach peak color harmony. This may mean implementing a scroll-over or click effect, or using it within key graphics to help them jump off the screen.
When implementing these tips, try to keep your color palette limited to only these three colors, at least to start. Mixing in different shades or hues can muddy the effect and detract from the overall color harmony you’re striving for.
For instance, if you choose blue as one of your colors, stick to one specific blue and be consistent throughout your process. If you want to use different shades or hues of blue, limit it to two specific blues and a third color that complements them.
While monochromatic color schemes can be beautiful, it’s the complementary colors that do the heavy lifting when it comes to increasing conversions.
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