Human existence is all about communication. Since the earliest, most primitive times, people have been working to communicate with each other in order to build things. Civilisation itself is the crowning achievement of communication: People gathered together to exchange ideas and form governments, movements, religions, and businesses.
When most people think of communication they naturally think of words and language, because that’s the main way complex ideas are exchanged and modified in the world. But there are other forms of communication: Non-verbal body language that conveys emotions and subconscious responses; non-verbal sound such as in music that can convey complex feelings and moods; and, of course, a language of visual symbols. Chief among those symbols is colour choice. Whether you realise it or not, your choice of colours in just about any print product is going to communicate something to your customers and audience. Poor colour choice might communicate that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that they shouldn’t bother paying attention to your marketing piece.
The Language of Colour
In the language of colour, there are three basic concerns: Visual design and contrast, the emotional impact of colours, and the coherence of colour choice across different elements.
Visual design encompasses the entire print piece, from the colour of the paper it’s printed on to the images, fonts, and artwork included. Colour is one of the most important aspects of a visual design: The colours chosen need to complement each other and work together as a palette that pleases the eye, but at the same time the different colours chosen must have enough contrast between each other to stand out, otherwise your design gets washed out. Choosing contrasting colours from the same general palette ensures your piece will be easy to read and grab the eye.
Emotion is an aspect of colour most people understand intellectually but often have trouble articulating. In general, each fundamental colour (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, Grey, White, Black) has an attached emotional meaning:
- Yellow: Optimism
- Orange: Friendliness
- Red: Excitement
- Purple: Creativity
- Blue: Trustworthiness
- Green: Peace and Calm
- Grey: Balance
If you review some famous logos of successful corporations, you’ll see these colours represented very logically within them, and in some logos you’ll see careful use of several used to represent different aspects of a company. Using these colours carefully to communicate emotional responses is essential in getting your marketing the attention it needs.
Coherence also has to be considered – your print piece has to be tied together. For example, when choosing a colour for your text you can’t simply choose the ‘emotion’ you want and go for it, it needs to tie back to the images and other elements. Start with the colours found in your images and choose a colour from there that also hits the right emotional band you’re looking for, so it all feels like a coherent whole.
Colour is the most important aspect of all print products. Think deeply about your colour choice before you print your next mailing.