The Small Design Studio with Big (Green) Plans
Color theory is always an interesting subject to discuss – it’s THEORY, of course. I’ve been reading quite a bit about psychology and sociology lately, so I thought I would do some digging into the psychology of color theory.
Psychology is defined as the study of behavior and matters of the mind (or something close to that, based on the few psych books I’ve read). Color theory is a field of study that attempts to define which colors “work” together or what emotional responses are evoked by particular colors.
Both of these fields could be considered imprecise at best; variables such as culture, subculture, and individual perception can alter results in both color theory and psychology. Though, when both fields are held under the same microscope something interesting happens.
Color theory and psychology have developed closely together over the past 150 years. Some psychological experiments crossed over into the art field in the late 1800′s. This blend of professions was never truly broken. When a designer discusses “color theory” today, what they mean is “Color Psychology.”
Some experiments or observations haven’t been conducted in a controlled environment, but exposure to common reactions can give designers a rough idea of color meanings.
Five psychologists published a study on performance effects of color stimuli in 2007. One part stood out to me in particular – the study of the color red. Students presented with tests that have instructions or titles in red ink did not perform as well as students presented with tests without red ink.
This seems to be caused by a lifetime of teachers marking errors with red ink. Social and psychological conditioning have caused the color red to be “taboo” on any documentation. Even when teachers use the color red to emphasize instructions it tends to harm performance rather than help students understand instructions.
With the importance of the previously mentioned experiment in mind, let’s look at some other general color meanings. Below is a list of colors and generalized meanings from Smashing Magazine:
This article wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive introduction to color theory, but more of an explanation on the importance of color theory. So many fields are indirectly related to design that it’s ridiculous, so let’s get a little conversation going. What fields (other than Psychology) do you believe are related to design?