The Psychology Of Colour In Signage Design

26th September 2019

The psychology of colour in signage design

It’s a well-established scientific fact that different colours can influence our perception of the things we experience in weird and wonderful ways. Colour can make us feel happy or sad, warm or cold, relaxed or aggravated - and even affect the apparent taste of food. Of course, this has big implications for branding and signage.

Marketers have long known that the choice of colours for a logo or sign can have a big effect on the public perception of a brand. Can you imagine if Cadbury’s Dairy Milk came in a bright red wrapper? The colour purple was chosen a long time ago to communicate a feeling of luxury and sophistication, and changing it now would feel very strange.

Colour is such an important design component that when chosen well it can help your signage to communicate key values to your customers - so how do we choose the right colours?

Why is colour psychology important?

Like it or not, your customers can’t help but instinctively feel a certain way about your business based on your visual branding decisions. After all, the Toys ‘R’ Us logo certainly doesn’t make us feel the same way as the National Geographic wordmark, and that’s by design.

Whether you want your business to be associated with a colourful joie de vivre, a mature adherence to traditional values or high-tech innovation and sophistication, your signage colour choices can help your customers to understand those values intuitively - sometimes even before you add anything else.

A good way to think about colour psychology in signage design to understand that it’s not valuable for communicating real information as such, because very few people are consciously aware of the effect. However, it’s great for influencing the ‘gut feeling’ your customers will have about your business - even if they don’t know why they have it.

In this way, you can predispose your customers and visitors to have a certain view of your company, even before they’ve conducted any business with you.

What are some common colour associations?

Before we get to our list of which colours tend to be associated with which themes and feelings, we should first point out that colour association is not an exact science. Individual people may have their own likes or dislikes for certain hues (eg., they may hate green because it reminds them of something bad).

Colours can also have different meanings to people from different cultural backgrounds. While many countries see yellow as a friendly and optimistic colour, Latin Americans may view it as the colour of death and sorrow - and green, which for most of us has connotations of nature and health, is seen as the colour of untrustworthiness in China.

Therefore, the following list of common colour associations should be taken as a guide that rings true mainly in the Western world and in general, but which should not be taken as a cast-iron guarantee in all cases:

• Red: power, excitement, love, passion, anger, energy
• Yellow: competence, happiness, optimism, childishness
• Orange: youth, vibrancy, cheerfulness, simplicity, economy
• Green: nature, health, wealth, envy, serenity
• Blue: masculinity, competence, quality, calmness
• Pink: femininity, sincerity, sophistication, affection, beauty
• Purple: luxury, sophistication, authority, creativity, power
• Brown: nature, ruggedness, tradition, durability
• Black: sophistication, expensiveness, stylishness, mystery, death
• White: purity, happiness, sincerity, clarity, nobility
• Grey: neutrality, science, maturity, calmness

Identifying your message

To nail down the perfect colours for use on your signs, you’ll first need to specify the values that you think your business best embodies and which you would most like to see communicated to your customers.

Once you have identified a theme (or a small selection of themes) for your company, you can begin to pick out the colours that seem to suggest those associations. To express sophistication and trustworthiness, for example, we might consider some combination of purple, black and white - perhaps using just one or two of the colours (depending on the needs of our design).

Alternatively, for a business that promotes spiritual wellness we might pick green (health and nature), white (purity and clarity), and perhaps also something that suggests happiness such as yellow.

Picking the right values and the most appropriate colours before you design any other elements of your signage can be a great way to give customers a ‘good feeling’ about your business even before they’ve walked through the door - even if they’re not exactly cognisant of the reason.

Further colour considerations for signage

Pure colour psychology theory aside, it may be the case that not all colours are equally practical in your specific signage case.

One consideration is that any exterior sign must be considered in the context of its surroundings - it may not be a good idea to put a black sign in a dark area, a green sign in front of a tree or a grey sign on a grey wall if you want your design to stand out!

Especially for retail businesses, restaurants, and other businesses found in locations close to others, it’s also a good idea to evaluate your signage colours for possible clashes with your neighbours. Two restaurants near to each other with red-and-yellow colour schemes on their signage could cause consumer confusion - or make one business look like a copycat.

It’s also important that your signage is consistent with other aspects of your branding; after all, a shop or business that is blue on the outside and red on the inside could seem to have a confused idea of its own identity. If you’re able to use the same colours across all of your branding (including internal signage, social media, and anywhere else your logo is seen), it will help to create a stronger and more unified impression.

Another thing to remember is that your sign must be readable from a distance, so it’s good to bear in mind that whichever colours you choose should work well together and create enough contrast to ensure legibility.

Whatever you end up choosing, great signage will always create a favourable impression in the minds of your customers and stand you out from your competitors.

By clarifying your business values and picking the right hues to embody those ideals, you can give your visitors a great ‘gut feeling’ about your company even before they’ve entered the building - and that’s what quality signage is all about.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you with your sign project.