Psychological tricks

While many of our colour decisions may be instinctive, the more scientifically minded might want to try a more rigorous approach.

Many designers have sought the help of colour psychologist Angela Wright, founder of consultancy Colour Affects (colour-affects.co.uk). She studies how particular wavelengths of light stimulate the brain.

“Many people think it is all about how things look, but there is far more to colour than meets the eye,” says Angela. “We are unconsciously adapting to these wavelengths every waking moment, visually, physically and emotionally.

“Throughout evolution, our instinct for colour as nature’s own signalling system contributed to our survival. Today our response is largely unconscious. Nevertheless, it still drives our behaviour as strongly as it ever did.”

For example, while red is technically not the most visible colour, red objects appear nearer than they really are and therefore grab our attention.

But far from telling people which colours to use, Angela asks designers to tell her what they are trying to achieve before giving them palettes of colours that will help express what they want to say.

Angela stresses that there are no ‘wrong’ colours: our response depends on the combination used and also on our personality.

Angela has devised a system with four colour groups, echoing the four seasons. Her system also contains four personality types, each with an emotional affinity for one of these groups. “On a commercial project, there is no doubt that this approach saves everybody a lot of grief and, crucially, time and money,” she says.

According to Angela, the following four basic colours are associated with certain psychological qualities:

Red is the ‘physical’ colour, symbolising courage, strength and survival, as well as aggression and defiance.

Yellow is the ‘emotional’ colour, representing optimism, extraversion and creativity, plus anxiety, emotional fragility and depression.

Green is about ‘balance’ – which can mean universal love and environmental awareness, or stagnation and running out of energy.

Blue is ‘intellectual’, representing intelligence and communication, logic and calm, though it also spills over into aloofness and lack of emotion.