Colour: Smart ways to use them in design and marketing

Colour: Smart ways to use them in design and marketing

Colour is one of the elements in design that can be used to impact your audience on an emotional level. Use it in all elements of design: – images or design elements, background or even different coloured fonts.

It helps to grab attention, convey meaning and to establish a hierarchy. Using sharp contrast helps to let certain elements stand out. And low contrast to create aesthetically pleasing and beautiful designs.

What is colour? defines colour as the aspect of things that is caused by differing qualities of light being reflected or emitted by them.

To see it, you must have light. When light shines on an object some colours bounce off the object and others are absorbed by it. Our eyes only see the colours that are bounced off or reflected.

Color – What is Color?


Red, blue, and yellow are primary colours because they are not created by using other colours.


Mixing the primary colours gives us the secondary colours (purple, green and orange).


Create tertiary colours by adding more of one primary than the other (red-purple, red-orange, yellow-green, etc.)


Pure or saturated colour has no white, black or any third colour added to it. They are intense, bright, and cheerful. Use them for children’s toys, day-care decor, and summer clothes.


You can create a tint (or pastel) by adding white.


Adding black creates a shade. It darkens or dull the brightness of pure colours.


Adding grey (black + white) to a pure colour, creates a tone. This helps to subdue their intensity.


Contrast is what makes a colour stand out against the background. With high or sharp contrast colours easily stands apart from each other. With low contrast they do not.

You can easily check contrast, by converting all your colours to greyscale and then review your contrast.

Use sharp contrast for important content that needs to be easily seen. Dark on light, or light or dark is easiest to read. If everything is in sharp contrast, nothing will stand out. And it is very tiring on the eyes.

Utilize low contrast to make your design look beautiful. But it makes it also hard to read.

Create a balance between the use of high and low contrast in your designs.

Completed Mood Board or Colour Palette
Mood Board: How to Create One in 12 Simple Steps with Canva!

A straightforward way to get this balance right is to create a mood board or colour palette with both complementary and analogous colours. You can create it easily with Canva!

How to choose colour combinations

Use the colour wheel to help you find great combinations for your designs and marketing. Since most people prefer simplicity, stick to two to three colours. It makes your content easy to understand. And can stir up the emotions that you are aiming for with your target audience. Using too many colours will lead only to confusion and your message will not be communicated effectively.

The Colour Wheel divided in cool and warm colours
The Know It All Guide to Color Psychology in Marketing + The Best Hex Chart


Use complimentary colours (opposites on the colour wheel) to make things stand out, by creating visual tension. Opposites creates a visual break that grabs attention. The best way to accomplish this is to accentuate a primary with a complimentary colour.

❗ Do remember that RED and GREEN poses a problem for colour blind people who cannot distinguish between these two colours.

If you decide to use green as your main colour: instead of using the complimentary red, rather use the tertiary red-orange or red-purple to accommodate the colour-blind.

Sharp contrast and additional text will ensure that your visuals will be readable and enjoyable even to people with dichromatic vision.

The chart below explains the several types of dichromatism.

Chart explaining several types of colour blindness
The Know It All Guide to Color Psychology in Marketing + The Best Hex Chart


This refers to colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. They create pleasing and relaxed visuals. And beautiful and subtle content. You will need to add a complimentary colour to make them stand out.


This refers to a single colour with its tints, shades, and tones. They work great when paired with a single complementary colour.

Triangle, Rectangle and Square

A triangle (triad) combines three colours evenly spaced on the colour wheel.

A rectangle (tetradic) uses four colours of two pairs of complementary colours.

A square is like the rectangle palette, but the two sets of complimentary pairs are evenly spaced around the colour wheel.

To prevent your design from becoming too busy, use one as dominant and the others for highlighting content.

What is colour psychology?

The Encyclopaedia Britannica article provides good insights to form a definition of colour psychology.

It is the study of how colour influences aesthetic and psychological responses to colour. And how it influences art, commerce, and even physical and emotional sensations.  Including colour terminology, harmony, preferences, symbolism, and other psychological aspects of colour.

Encyclopaedia Britannica: They Psychology of Colour

It is important to remember that psychologic perception of colour is subjective and influenced by personal experience and culture. Perception are influenced by age, mood and mental health.

We need to remember that no universal rules apply, and perception depends on individual experience.

  • Cool colours are perceived to be creative or calm.
  • Warm colours stimulate and are perceived to be invigorating, lively and add life to a design (make it POP)!
  • Neutral colours take on the characteristics of the colours they are combined with to subdue or enhance those effects.
  • Bright colours promote physical activity but make passage of time seem to slow.
  • Cooler, softer colours are better for mental activity, but make time seem to fly by.

Cultural perception plays a role in religion, language, politics, ceremony and art. Even the context you use it in will affect the deeper meaning of the colour you use.

Colour Psychology in Marketing

A study under 2200 entrepreneurs in 50+ countries shows the following emotional perception of an assortment of colours:

Image showing assorted colours and their emotional responses.
Colours and Emotions: How Different Colours Affect Perception and Mood

All colours can have positive and negative connotations based on the environment, personal experience, and cultural perceptions.  In Western cultures white is associated with purity and peace. But in Asian countries it is associated with death and mourning.

When using colours in any design, ensure that they are in harmony and know how everyone influences the other colours around it.

What is the effect of colour on consumer behaviour?

It does not only affect a person’s mood or thoughts, but also their behaviour.  See below how different colours can be used to influence consumer behaviour –

  • Red are used to indicate buying or sales. Therefore, announcements about sales or discounts often makes use of red.
  • Orange is an effective colour to use for your call-to-action.
  • Yellow attracts focus or grabs attention.
  • Green creates a sense of relaxation.
  • Blue is an effective colour to use for many types of communication. It indicates loyalty, honesty, and power.
  • Purple are associated with royalty. Therefore, it is used for beauty and luxury goods.
  • Black is seen as elegant and sophisticated.
  • White points to cleanliness and simplicity and is often used in industries like healthcare and technology.
  • Gray indicates simplicity and is used to calm and soothe consumers.

We can see that colour can play an important part in design and marketing. Use it to appeal to your audience’s emotions. And to elicit different emotional responses. Or to highlight certain parts of your designs or even for grouping certain elements in your design to form a hierarchy.

Did you put any thought into choosing just the right colour for your logo or branding? Please share with us in the comments the reason you’ve decided to use a specific colour or colours for your branding.


  1. Color – What is Color?
  2. How to Use Color To Enhance Your Designs
  3. 12 colours and the emotions they evoke
  4. What is colour psychology: The Emotional Effects of Colors
  5. Influence with Design – A Guide to Color and Emotions
  6. Colors and Emotions: How Different Colors Affect Perception and Mood
  7. The Know It All Guide to Color Psychology In Marketing + The Best Hex Chart
  8. The Psychology of Colour

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