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25 Sep 2020

Getting to Grips with Colour: Understanding It, Using It and Making It Work For You

Getting to Grips with Colour: Understanding It, Using It and Making It Work For You

Karen Haller is a leading international authority on colour psychology, specialising in business brand colour, interiors and wellbeing and the author of The Little Book of Colour. She offers her key takeaways on developing a better relationship with colour and how to apply it effectively and impactfully.

Don’t be afraid of colour
Often designers - particularly small, independent craft designers - can feel as though they have to follow prescribed trends; that, if they don’t, they’re making their products somehow less commercial.

There are a wealth of trend forecasters purporting to know the next must-have colour and it can be overwhelming. It can seem, for these designers, that as soon as they have their product on the market, there’s a new en vogue hue. But I say, trends are there to inspire, not to slavishly follow. If you feel there is a colour that communicates the story of your collection, or how you want people to feel then trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to pick your own. Show your true colours.

Ask: how does it make you feel?
Colour is more than purely visual, it has an impact on our emotions. It can change how we feel in an instant and has a the almost magical ability to cut straight to our core. As designers and makers, specific colours, combinations and proportions can make or break a design. It can be the difference between positive or adverse psychological affects being felt.

A quick tip if you are looking to excite, motivate or stimulate through colour is to look for vibrant tones. If you want colours that soothe, and which are gentle and ‘quiet’, then seek out colours that have low chroma value.

Colour is cultural   
Colour can have great cultural significance, which is something you’ll want to be mindful of when designing for a specific target market. For example, red in China is good luck and good fortune, of course, however it may be less well-known that white is a symbol of death and is considered bad luck. In many countries pink is considered a colour for girls and blue for boys, which is incidentally a myth and entirely a social construct. However, cultural beliefs can have an impact on sales, so doing your research in this area is invaluable. It’s also worth remembering that there is no such thing as gendered colours or gender-neutral colours.

Engage your customer’s emotions through colour
When we buy something it is often because of the emotional connection we feel. Afterwards, we rationalise our choices on the basis of performance or price, for example. We like to think of ourselves as logical beings, but in reality we buy because of an emotional want or need. Colour is that emotional trigger.

Use colour to engage with your customers. Think about how buying from you is going to make them feel. Use colour to trigger the kinds of emotional responses that will make them feel that they can trust you and your brand, and want to buy from you.

Context is everything
When using colour in a professional capacity, consider the differences in how it is best applied depending on the project – whether an interior design, a product or a branding exercise. The context in which a colour is used can significantly change its meaning and our relationship to it. For example, even though blue is the world’s favourite colour, used in a different context such as food, we can become wary of it because we innately know that blue food is poisonous. If you’re thinking blueberries, they are actually purple!

For an in-depth exploration of colour, watch our Top Drawer On Demand session, Decoding Colour, as Karen Haller speaks with journalist and consultant Harry McKinley, about the science and psychology of colour and why understanding its effects is crucial in design.

Karen haller

Karen Haller is the author of The Little Book of Colour published by Penguin Life and available in 13 languages

IG: @Karen_Haller_Colour