Investigations into what colors mean and how they influence consumers have brought marketers and packaging designers a mix of clarity and appetite for deeper knowledge. While there are plenty of studies to draw from to make useful assumptions about new designs, there are still many unanswered questions about the relationship between colors and emotions. Here are some of the findings that many researchers agree upon that can help designers understand why colors play a major role in consumer choices and behavior.
Different Colors for Different Experiences
One of the most important revelations over the years about color psychology is that each individual has their own perception of what any given color means. Yet there are still widespread consistencies of color interpretations among specific subcultures and even wider populations in general. Everyone who has seen blue skies all their lives will naturally associate blue with the sky as well as its reflection in water. Green is also an earth color, which explains why both blue and green have similar feelings such as peace and relaxation attached to them.
But just because a majority of the population might think of the sky when asked what blue reminds them of, doesn't mean that answer will work for everyone. A person who works at night and rarely sees the outside world in daylight hours might have a completely different relationship with blue. So to be clear, colors can be used to make predictions on how consumers will respond to a product or package, but the margin of error may fluctuate among different groups of people.
Understanding the Connection Between Colors and Emotion
Designers should be aware that there are five main hues that dominate the visible spectrum and color wheels that depict how colors are separated from each other. Those main hues are red, yellow, green, blue and purple. On a standard color wheel red is on the exact opposite side of blue. This separation does not necessarily mean that whatever people think red means then blue has the exact opposite meaning or feeling. Yet, red is generally an aggressive color while blue is a calm color. These perceptions come from years of social conditioning.
Color preferences often stem from positive or negative feelings, regardless of demographics, according to studies by Eysenck in 1941 and Adams and Osgood in 1973. Some people decide at an early age what their favorite color is and then stick with it for years. A person whose favorite color is purple may fill their home with purple paintings and flowers to the point their whole life becomes purple-based the more it becomes their identity with friends.
So it's important to understand the nuances that can affect the color-emotion link. Even though one study may show that most people have a negative emotion about gray, another study can show gray isn't that disliked when it's used in conjunction with another color. Only repeated studies can indicate consistent patterns in society on what colors mean to the masses. Unfortunately, not enough comprehensive studies have been done on color research to view the full picture yet.
Takeaways For Designers
A packaging designer is more concerned with what the masses think than what each individual nuance consists of. In order for color research to be useful information to a designer, there must be consistent generalizations to analyze. One of the most important points to know is that the first primary hues generate the most positive responses in studies. In fact, about 80 percent of all responses to the five main hues were positive in a 2004 University of Georgia study.
The next group of favored colors consists of intermediate hues, which are blends of the five main hues. Those combinations include yellow-red, green-yellow, blue-green, purple-blue and red-purple. The least favorable group is the achromatic colors of white, gray and black, although white usually gets the most positive responses of the three.
While yellow and red can trigger higher levels of anxiety than other colors, they can also be associated with excitement. Overall, red and black are both very powerful, yet in some cases can elicit negative emotion. Brightness is one of the key factors that may affect emotions, as bright red and dark red can have very different effects.
One of the most compelling aspects of color is its association with symbolism and holidays on the calendar. Red and green are obviously Christmas colors while orange and black are Halloween colors. The calendar repeats year after year delivering these predictably popular color associations. Seasons also help create consistent associations between colors and emotions, as winter brings gray skies and snow-peaked mountains, whereas summer often relates to blue skies and green trees. So when designing for a large group consider the basic colors that connect the people together based on culture, climate and lifestyle.
You missed part 1 or 2? Read the complete series.
 "Analysis_of_cross-cultural color emotion (2007)" , by Xiao-Ping Gao , John H Xin, Tetsuya Sato and Aran Hansuebsai.
 "Effects of Color on Emotions (1994)" , by Patricia Valdez and Albert Mehrabian.