Event Design and the Psychology of Color

So our last blog helped you pick the theme of your event — now it’s time to talk about the three major elements you’ll use in the construction of that theme: color, pattern, and texture. Many designers don’t really stop and think about these three elements; they intuit their way through the job and that works for them. Or doesn’t. If you’re part of the second group and you need some intellectual support for your design choices, we’re here to talk a little bit about the psychology of color, pattern, and texture. We’ll start this week with color.

Opening Note: It’s important to note that psychology is somewhat cultural, and these notes are designed to apply in general to the culture in the United States, or more broadly to the Western European, North American, and Australian world. Ask someone who grew up saturated in Chinese, Eastern European, or any other distinctly separate cultural heritage, and you’ll find that they have distinct color associations not found here, such as white=mourning (Chinese tradition) or orange=spiritual (Buddhist, due to saffron-infused robes).

Psychology of Color
Every color has several connotations that can be accessed — which exact connotation you’ll evoke depends on the context set around the color. For example, green might be the color of fresh, organic produceā€¦but it’s also the color of meat gone bad, so be careful precisely how you use it when dealing with food.

Red

  • Associations: Fire, stop, sports cars/speed, blood, lips
  • Emotions: Passion, rage, infatuation
  • Attitudes: Energetic, strong, demanding
  • Conditions: Danger, pressure, urgency
  • Physiological Effect: Raises heart rate

Pink

  • Associations: Girls, Valentine’s day, cuteness, princesses, struggle (via breast cancer)
  • Emotions: Love, coyness, tenderness
  • Attitudes: Nurturing, calm, seductive
  • Conditions: Vulnerability, openness, femininity
  • Physiological Effect: Induces oxytocin (makes you more open and trusting)

Orange

  • Associations: Tropical fruit, dusk/dawn, harvest, autumn, plenty
  • Emotions: Sensuality, excitement, neediness
  • Attitudes: Extroverted, frivolous, optimistic
  • Conditions: Freedom, sociality, movement
  • Physiological Effect: Stimulates hunger

Yellow

  • Associations: The midday sun, emergency tape, caution lights, festival rides (seriously!)
  • Emotions: Friendliness/warmth, anxiety/fear, caution
  • Attitudes: Thoughtful, alert, judgmental
  • Conditions: Inspiration, stress, readiness
  • Physiological Effect: Induces cortisol (stress hormone)

Green

  • Associations: Spring, forest, mold, money, permission (green light), inexperience
  • Emotions: Calm, greed/envy, hope
  • Attitudes: Harmonious, enduring, materialistic
  • Conditions: Balance, prosperity, earnestness
  • Physiological Effect: Lowers blood pressure

Blue

  • Associations: Ocean, heaven, ribbons, nobility, cold, melancholy, the working class, boys
  • Emotions: Depression, serenity, commitment
  • Attitudes: Honest, self-aware, self-sacrificial
  • Conditions: Excellence, masculinity, authority
  • Physiological Effect: Reduces stress hormones

Violet/Purple

  • Associations: Berries, royalty, New Age spiritualism, the penis
  • Emotions: Vanity, ambivalence, suppressed Red emotions
  • Attitudes: Self-assured, contemplative, inscrutable
  • Conditions: Extravagance, authenticity, mysticism
  • Physiological Effect: Raises blood pressure (small amounts), dampens the senses (large)

White

  • Associations: Weddings, divinity, blankness, potential, cold, sterility, isolation, privilege
  • Emotions: Innocence, distain, acceptance
  • Attitudes: Virtuous, judgmental, standoffish
  • Conditions: Purity, crispness, uniqueness, cleanliness
  • Physiological Effect: Clears the mind/enables focus

Grey

  • Associations: Clouds, fog, pollution, the brain, in-between, dullness, neutrality
  • Emotions: Apathy, pessimism, boredom, loneliness
  • Attitudes: Neutrality, dependability, compromise
  • Conditions: Concealment, conventionality, traditionalism
  • Physiological Effect: None

Black

  • Associations: Night, hiding, sophistication, menace, outcasts, discipline, the unknown
  • Emotions: Empowerment, panic, angst
  • Attitudes: Threatening, controlled, mysterious
  • Conditions: Sleekness, class, mastery
  • Physiological Effect: Heightens the senses (small amounts), prepares for sleep (large)

Brown

  • Associations: Earth, trees, fur, excrement, (w)holism, the primitive, simplicity, reliability
  • Emotions: Acceptance, resolution, sincerity
  • Attitudes: Dutiful, comfortable, frugal
  • Conditions: Practicality, moderation, filth
  • Physiological Effect: Brings back to neutral

Gold

  • Associations: Wealth, luxury, power, excess, corruption, divinity, the sun, victory
  • Emotions: Entitlement, elegance, optimism
  • Attitudes: Self-absorbed, authoritative, demanding
  • Conditions: Sleazy, immoderation, overwhelming
  • Physiological Effect: Increases perceived temperature

Silver

  • Associations: Mirrors/reflection, prestige, technology, dignity, aging, the moon, fluidity
  • Emotions: Formality, sensitivity, pride
  • Attitudes: Reverence, adaptability, being ‘called’ (by something greater)
  • Conditions: Modernity, sacredness, refinement
  • Physiological Effect: Lowers perceived temperature