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Connecting with people online is primarily a visual endeavor, full of color, images, video, and words. If someone is on your website, there’s a good chance they’re experiencing it visually.
This isn’t limited to online experiences, either.
Brick-and-mortar shops and retail businesses thrive on trying to catch your attention a thousand different ways when you come into the store, attempting to use clever marketing tactics and “color psychology” to sway you into buying.
There’s enough on this subject to dedicate entire college courses to it, so today we’re going to be talking about some basic principles and why you should take extra care when choosing colors and images to represent your brand.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Businesses try to get your attention through your senses.
- Your brand will attract people based on the image you project.
- Color in imagery can reinforce a concept or feeling.
- Make sure the color you’re using serves a purpose beyond your preference.
- Know who you’re trying to reach, their culture, and their context.
- Color is most powerful when it is used within imagery.
- Imagery influences your subconscious.
- The images you use affect how people perceive everything you’re trying to communicate with your brand.
- Be intentional about the colors you choose to use.
- 02:04 Kyle: I changed the colors for the Invisible Details artwork. All the colors for the new Invisible Details artwork, which is really just an update from the last artwork we had, were all sampled from a picture of a man o’ war jellyfish that was washed up on the shore.
- 02:39 Cory: I love that.
- 02:43 Kyle: They’re great. In case you’re looking for good colors, just find a man o’ war jellyfish.
- 02:51 Cory: That’s really interesting. I love that attention that you have to color. I told Kyle, “This is your deal.” You’re the icon designer. You have all this experience with UI and UX, and all this stuff where you’ve done so much work in it. I’m just over here putting one person’s face on another person’s in Photoshop. I asked Kyle to spearhead this show. I know he has a lot to say about color and imagery.
- 03:55 Color, imagery, video, words, and pictures, are all part of how most people experience things in this world. I know that’s not everyone. If someone’s on your website, there’s a good chance that they’re experiencing it visually. We do a lot of work online, our business is online, but even at shops and retail stores, everyone is trying to get your attention through various senses. They use smell, they use taste.
- 04:38 If you go into a place like Costco and they give you the samples, you say, “Maybe I’ll go buy that cheese!” And you go buy the cheese. Visual things—they have signs, pictures, colors, and banners, all of that stuff.
- 04:59 That might sound really simple. Of course it’s important to remember how we’re connecting with the people we’re trying to reach visually. Color and imagery is one of those things where you have to have some level of understanding of how your audience is going to react, engage, and connect with your brand. That’s why we have this show. We usually talk about all of the invisible details of the brand, all of the things that make up the brand, but we don’t often talk about the things on the outside.
Businesses try to get your attention through your senses.
Certain Visuals Attract Certain People
- 05:51 Cory: We don’t often talk about the logo, color pallets, and those things, but it is an aspect of developing a brand and having people connect with you. Right, Kyle?
- 06:04 Kyle: Yeah, it’s huge. It’s part of taking those invisible details and projecting them outward. We talk about taking care of your potential customers, creating a brand that generates loyalty, and bringing people into this experience. It all starts with what they see on the outside. It’s kind of like approaching other people. There have been a lot of studies on why certain people connect with other people.
- 06:39 Why do you prefer someone over someone else, even if there are no major differences? They connect with things they’re familiar with or people they feel will be a certain way if they approach them. Just to be clear here, I’m talking about strangers. If you’re walking down the street, you’re more likely to approach a stranger that looks friendly, looks like somebody you know, or looks like you, than you are somebody you’re not sure how they’ll react when you approach them or someone who doesn’t look similar to anyone you know, or to yourself.
- 07:18 These things are important, because when you’re creating your brand, that’s part of what you want. We talk a lot about a brand as a persona (Related: e004 Understanding Brand as Personality and Why It Matters). Essentially, it’s like a child you’re raising. You’re leading them in a certain direction. Part of that is their personality. Are the right kind of people approaching them, specifically? You hear that stereotypical scenario where the dad is upset because the daughter is wearing clothes that don’t make her project the right message.
- 07:57 Or there’s a mom who sees her son is looking a certain way, and she says, “You don’t want to look like that! You’ll attract people who act like that.” It’s kind of that same thing.
- 08:21 This goes really deep into the whole visual thing. User experience plays into this, because certain colors can project certain things. We know the stereotypical ones, like green is good and red is bad, if you’re looking at buttons. Typically, there are positive and negative associations.
- 08:43 Cory: Right. Depending on context, of course.
- 08:46 Kyle: Yeah. I’m saying, if they’re together, if you have a green button and a red button, you’re more likely to think the green button is a good thing. There are these psychological things that we have built into us, and it plays a big role in how willing we are to approach things and how we feel about them. You’ll notice this with adventure companies.
You will attract people based on the image you project, and that includes both the imagery and the colors that you use in your brand.
- 09:37 Kyle: GoPro does a really good job of this, specifically with color. A lot of their UI stuff, the interfaces on their cameras, and the cameras themselves, are this black, dark color. Typically, black is symbolic of professionalism or well-built products.
- 10:14 Cory: Premium feel.
- 10:17 Kyle: These are things where someone’s buying this to go dive in the ocean or ski down a mountain with, so you want something you see as well made and professional. You’re trying to capture things that you may not ever be able to capture again. They do really well with that. I would be surprised if this wasn’t intentional on their part, but I know that their normal color is blue. They use a lot of blue.
- 10:47 Recently, on some of their newer cameras, they have put red on the camera. I think that’s specifically for if it’s recording or not. They have red. There is no blue on the camera. Red is typically associated with power, speed, or…
- 11:14 Cory: Excitement.
- 11:17 Kyle: That’s what you’re doing when you use this. When you use the camera, a GoPro is meant to be in action. You’re filming action sports or deep, underwater dives where you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s all about adventure. I’ve noticed that they’ve started incorporating that a lot, even in some of their imagery. I’m looking at their site right now, and they have this girl skiing down a mountain. She has poles, and the poles have red on them. She’s wearing some pink, but it’s also red, and then the camera has red on it.
- 12:00 It’s subtle. It probably sounds like this stuff doesn’t matter that much, unless you know what the colors mean, but they really translate over. We see this, specifically with something like a car. If I said that first, if I said, “Think of a red car. What do you think of?” You would say, “Speed. Action. Fast driving.” Most people associate it with that.
- 12:33 Cory: This is so fascinating, that you notice this. I’m on GoPro’s website right now. I clicked on Shop, while you’re talking. There’s a car that people are driving, and it’s red. There are guys on these quads, and it’s red. This guy is on a mountain bike, and his shirt, in the prominent forefront, is red. There are people sitting here, looking out over an ocean and mountains, and they’re sitting in red chairs. What is this? This is amazing.
- 13:12 Kyle: I don’t know what their intention with it was, but typically, blue is very associated with trust. A lot of banks use blue, at least in the US. It’s meant to communicate trust, security, and safety. If I’m pretending to be GoPro, for example, all of this blue makes people think, “Okay, I can trust that this camera isn’t going to fall apart while I’m skiing down a mountain.” It reinforces the idea that you can trust this product to not fall apart on you.
- 13:53 That’s about pre-purchase. Once you’ve purchased from them, once you see yourself using the thing, then you go into red. “Let’s get into some action, things that are more intense than something that’s blue.”
GoPro reinforces the concept of action using the color red in their imagery.
Culture & Context
- 14:09 Cory: I’m hearing you say that when it comes to color, it helps, it pays, and it’s important to know the context of the color, first of all.
- 14:31 Kyle: Yeah. Right now, in the live chat, people are saying that red could be associated with love or anger. I wasn’t going to go really deep into that, but there are different associations, for sure. There are also different nuances depending on how bright or dark the color is. Pink doesn’t give the same reaction as deep red. They’re just different colors. I hope that was helpful, and not overwhelming.
- 15:11 I wanted to give a real world example of how certain aspects of your brand are projected through the colors you use—in a subconscious way, for most people, but it’s powerful none the less.
- 15:25 Cory: It’s different between cultures, too. Kyle was telling me this the other day, but in certain cultures, in their tradition, certain colors represent girls and certain colors represent boys. Kyle was telling me that there are other cultures where it’s swapped. In one case, people might say that pink is a girl color, but in another culture, pink is thought to be a very masculine color.
- 16:11 Am I trying to communicate something about power? Am I trying to communicate something about grace? Am I trying to communicate something about elegance, something premium? Am I trying to communicate to men? Am I trying to communicate to women? Am I trying to communicate to dogs? There are so many things here that are so important when it comes to determining what you’re going to be doing and what the context is. It boggles my mind when people are like, “I like purple, so I’m going to put purple in my logo there.”
Make sure the color you’re using serves a purpose beyond your preference.
Know who you’re trying to reach, what their culture and context is, and what you’re trying to communicate.
The Power of Imagery
- 16:53 Kyle: It’s not up to preference. It’s up to target audience. That’s something I want to mention, too. In the chat, there’s a lot of mention of, for example, blue. Cory McCabe mentioned that blue could be be calm, blue could be sad, or as I mentioned earlier, blue could communicate trust. That’s where imagery plays in. For example, on the GoPro site, there are people in action and adventure shots. They’re falling off mountains and doing crazy things that I’ve never done.
- 17:34 They’re showing action, and they’re showing red. It puts your mind in the right place. Imagery plays into this significantly. If you have someone who looks sad and you overlay them with a red color, it’s like, “What does that mean? Is this person angry about a loss?” If you overlay it with blue, it could mean, “Oh, they’re really sad. They’re upset.”
- 18:18 What kind of imagery are you projecting to your audience? There are a lot of nuances in that. Recently, I came across this study that is so relevant for this. A study was done where the participants in the study were broken into three different groups. One group was shown a picture of a countertop, but in the background, there was one person standing there. In the second group, there was another picture of things on a table, and in the background, you could see two people standing on opposite sides of the photo.
- 19:10 In the third group, it was the same picture again, but the people in the background were standing shoulder to shoulder. In all of these studies, after they showed the picture to the participants, the researcher would stand up and “accidentally” drop something. The goal was to see whether any of these images lead people to want to help others. Even though the people in the images are in the background, does this affect their willingness to help others, to help this person who dropped things?
- 19:52 I want to say that 18% or 19% helped with the first two photos, the one of someone standing by themselves or two people standing on opposite sides of a photo. 48% or more, some super high percentage, maybe 48% more than the other, would help the person pick up all the items. The most interesting thing about this study was that the participants were 18 months old.
- 20:32 Cory: Woah, you just blew my mind.
- 20:37 Kyle: There’s this messaging.
- 20:58 Your audience is receiving these messages. Depending on what those messages are, they can bring about responses that further the goals of the brand.
- 21:08 Cory: That’s so good. I was not expecting that. That came out of left field.
- 21:22 Kyle: It brought about this idea of togetherness, two people shoulder to shoulder. It sounds cliche. It sounds like, “Of course, it’s that simple.” We’re shown these things all the time, and we don’t realize it. Go to a website. Where do you go a lot, Cory? Name somewhere, anywhere.
- 21:56 Cory: I go to EpidemicSound.com to find music clips for my YouTube vlog. That’s one I go to at least once a week.
- 22:19 Kyle: Here’s another example. It’s good. Their title on this page is, “Royalty Free Music Re-imagined. Carefully curated professional music library tailored for your film & video production.” On this main page, they have some people with professional equipment recording something that looks like a movie scene. They’ve got really professional equipment, sound equipment, and they’re out shooting a movie scene. You get this idea of professionalism, like they mention: “professional music tailored for your film & video production.”
- 23:08 There are four people and an actor in this shot. They’re collaborating. They’re working together, and that’s part of this thing. You’re working with this site to find the right music. I’m just pulling things out here. The shot is in a super wide, open field. It’s flat, brown, with a blue sky. It’s open and free. It’s expansive, isn’t it? I don’t know if they thought these things when they chose the photo.
- 23:57 There’s a huge library of professional things here. I had never heard of this site until you told me about it, but my point here is that if you’re listening to this and you haven’t thought through your site in this way or the things you’re projecting with your brand, go through other sites. Look at what they’re using. Focus on the images and the colors that they’re using, particularly really successful brands.
- 24:29 They probably have someone specifically working on these things. You’ll see how that messaging plays into what you think of the brand, the page, or all of these things.
Color theory is strongest in how it’s used within imagery.
Whether you think they do or not, the images you use affect how people perceive everything you’re trying to communicate with your brand.
Whether it’s intentional or not, imagery plays into your subconscious.
- 24:45 Cory: There’s another thing that’s interesting about photos, imagery, and how it plays into things. When you just blew my mind with the whole 18 month old thing, I started to think about my daughters. I have a two and a half year old named Rylynn, and she loves certain kinds of movies. She loves Frozen. There are a lot of messages in movies. Movies are all messaging.
- 25:24 One of the things that we’ve turned toward helping Rylynn, especially as it pertains to her younger sister, Melody, is looking at the love between Elsa and Anna. We look at their relationship, how they interact, how they talk to each other, and how, at the very end, Anna, in an act of true love, goes to sacrifice herself for Elsa. We’re using these things, saying, “You’re watching this and seeing these fake images, but you’re learning from them. It’s impacting who you are.”
- 26:14 Kyle: This is just about getting your message across. This doesn’t guarantee that people will react a certain way. The right kind of people will, but it’s important to pay attention to these things. Be intentional about it and know why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Like Cory mentioned earlier, “Let’s just throw purple on this logo. That looks good.” What does purple say? What are the common associations with purple? That’s probably a bad example. Royalty, love. That’s a big one. Passion.
- 27:01 Cory: The term that comes to my head is “silky smooth.”
- 27:10 Kyle: There are certain contexts where those things may not be appropriate. It all depends on what your goals are. What are you trying to work for? Even if you don’t necessarily think that the color you’re using is going to be associated with things, think about what it’s associated with in the real world. For example, I mentioned the red car thing earlier. Red, if it’s not showing love or something like that, it’s likely to show sports cars, fast, or those kinds of things.
- 27:50 Is that really the message you want to project? Let’s say you have a resort and spa. If you use red in the visual identity portion of your branding for a resort and spa, it’s not calming at all. The only thing it’s associated with that’s potentially even close is love, but if you use a bunch of red, it communicates anger, speed, and it increases your adrenaline a little bit, regardless of what it is. That’s not what you want to do at a resort and spa. You want to relax.
You can implement the principles of messaging through images and film in your website and your marketing.
Think through what the colors you’re using communicate and be intentional about it.
- 28:37 Kyle: Realize that there are some associations of colors that turn into something else. A few I have written down here are yellow and red, which are often associated with eating. It’s been shown to make people more hungry, at least in the US. I don’t know if that’s mustard and ketchup. That’s the first thing I think of. I don’t know why that associates that way, but it does. There are real reactions from people to these things.
- 29:17 Think about what things are these colors in the real world. Red roses, blue water, black SUVs… What are these things associated with? It could be good or bad. Maybe black SUVs aren’t a good association for you, or maybe they are. Maybe you’re trying to be a very professional and well put together organization. If you want to be a super fun, exciting organization, maybe don’t use black.
- 29:59 It just depends. I think the whole point of this episode is to think through these things, look at what other people are doing, and how they’re using these things to send messages to us on a regular basis.
- 30:13 Cory: You can just Google “color combination psychology,” and there are all these different articles and scholastic research journals. There are a lot of resources for looking into the behind the scenes of what color is doing to us psychologically and physiologically and what that can mean for what you’re trying to communicate.
- 30:54 That’s the most important part of communication. It doesn’t matter what you feel about it. It matters what the people you’re trying to reach feel about it. That’s the most important part.
- 31:07 Kyle: Yeah. There is a great article on Help Scout about this. It’s really good. It goes through some well known brands and where they land with the colors they have chosen and even some of the imagery. It goes into that a little bit, but it’s mostly about color. It’s very interesting.
When it comes to communication, the most important thing isn’t what you say, it’s that the other person received what you communicated in the way you intended.
- 32:10 Cory: Kyle, do you have any resources you would like to talk about when it comes to color?
- 32:23 Kyle: At the time this show is released, I’m working on a guide to Choosing Great Colors. It doesn’t go deep into this psychology aspect of color, but it does go into how you can get good color pallets put together and how you can make sure you’re choosing good colors for illustrations or, specifically, icons (in my case) or the brand identity. That’s really what it’s directed towards.
- 33:05 It’s going to be a guide. It will be available at ChoosingGreatColors.com. I will have a page there. It will be for sale, and it will be awesome.