The psychology of color and color choices is critical for the savvy peace builder to understand, because clients, visitors and audience members infer messages and make associations from the color choices brands make.
An understanding of the basics of color theory is necessary before addressing how colors impact decisions people make in choosing products. We can take that understanding and come to some conclusions about marketing and brand development best practices for peacebuilding professionals.
Color theory—the concept that different colors influence human moods and decisions—dates back at least to the Renaissance period and the work of Leone Alberti and Leonardo Da Vinci. However, color theory became a science in the 18th century through the work of Isaac Newton on optics (a forerunner of physics) and his theory of colors.
The idea that there are “warm” colors—i.e. the hues of red through yellow—and that there are “cool” colors—i.e. the hues of blue through purple—began around the same period. The German poet Goethe wrote his Theory of Colors in 1810 and created three bedrock concepts, which have been debated ever since:
• There are rules that govern the use of particular colors and these rules are based in what the human eye can see on the color spectrum.
• There is a poetry to understanding the use of color in various ways and this poetry has certain timeless conventions.
• There is a repeatability to the ways in which we as human beings, experience our perceptions of colors, and these perceptions are universal and objective.
Because of Goethe’s work, many of the subsequent arguments and research in the areas of physics, biology, psychology, philosophy, marketing and business focuses around the role and impact of colors on the human mind. Market and scientific research about the perceptions of colors by consumers is concerned with understanding and examining the mood and the language consumers use to describe the ways they feel about colors.
Mediators and peace builders have a unique stake in these research areas. The easiest place for peace builders to begin delving into the world of the impact of color on choices is through the ways in which they build their businesses and brands online—and offline.
For example, research shows that, whether depressed or anxious, people like the color blue. The saturation level of the color blue matters more than the presence of the color itself. From the LiveScience.com article by Stephanie Pappas from February of 2010 (link here), quoting Peter Whorwell of University Hospital South Manchester, "A light blue is not associated with a poor mood, but a dark blue is," Whorwell said. "The shade of color is more important than the color itself."
This answers the question of why the social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter have the color blue as part of their logo and website scheme, but the saturation levels (dark blue for Facebook and light blue for Twitter) vary. The color blue in general breeds perceptions of liking and trust, but the saturation can affect the nature of how consumers perceive that feeling.
This also answers the question of why younger, more upstart social media platforms such as Snapchat and Meerkat favor the color yellow.
From the Atlantic.com article by Maria Popova from August 2012, quoting from Goethe about the color yellow (link here):
“In its highest purity it always carries with it the nature of brightness, and has a serene, gay, softly exciting character.
State is agreeable and gladdening, and in its utmost power is serene and noble, it is, on the other hand, extremely liable to contamination, and produces a very disagreeable effect if it is sullied, or in some degree tends to the minus side.”
The saturation of the color yellow leads to people to feeling glad and optimistic (people like the color yellow in general) and the associations even come out in our language around the color yellow.
How can the savvy peacebuilder apply all of this information about color and theories behind the moods of color to their peacebuilding practice?
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Next up: Applying Layers of Color Theory
By Jesan Sorrells