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The Art and Sex of colour

I was recently lecturing a group of students in the use of colour and palette in web design and thought I'd spend a few minutes sharing some of the great materials that we have available as designers to help shape your graphic design and to change the way your customers perceive your product and brand.

We've always been aware that colours have different effects on people, the choice of colour in graphic design pieces and marketing is all around us, from road signs, well-recognized fast food chain branding, web design and more. Your customer will have an emotional response to your marketing materials, whether they are in print or in a digital format, and getting the colours and layout right is as important if not more important than the actual message you are conveying.

Colours invoke an emotional response in the individual. Some colours are familioar, comfortable, soothing and readily acceptable, while others are intense, harsh or even distrustful. As web and graphic designers, we look carefully at each project, your existing corporate branding and materials and your target market before we even start working on the individual piece. Imagine if you were marketing yourself as an aromatherapy business; your branding would be natural products, light hues and tones and taking inspiration from nature.  You wouldn't market yourself with black, bright red and yellows - it just wouldn't fit with customer perception or your target market.

The rules behind colour are equally as complex, and choosing the right palette requires a deep understanding of the relationship between colours. There are many articles on the web that explain how colour relationships work, and we won't go into it in any more detail than to say that the selection of colour palettes can be a complex process and one that is carefully conducted to establish a palette that will work for the individual piece and invoke the right response in your customer.

A few things about colour and emotion

We've mentioned the fact that different colours invoke an emotional response, and the notes below may give you more insight into how colours work.


The colour of fire and blood, red is a colour that is synonymous with energy, danger, strength, power, determination and war. It invokes passion, desire and love. As an emotionally intese colour, red enhances the human metabolism, raises blood pressure and gets the heart pumping! Perfect for use in the web as banners, 'buy now' buttons and call to action icons. It is used by people who want instant decisions. Red is also a sexual colour, used to enhance lips, finger nails and in common language - 'red lght', 'lady in red' and so on.  Bright red signifies joy, sexuality and love.  Pink shows romance, love and friendship. Dark red is oppressive, associated with malice, anger, willpower, leadership and longing. Brown is significant in showing strength and power with masculine overtones and stability.


Orange is a happy medium between the strength of red and the happiness of Yellow, it is equated with sunshine and joy. Orange is representative of success, encouragement, creativity, enthusiasm and stimulation. As a hot colour it gives the viewer a sensation of heat and warmth, increasing oxygen to the brain with an invigorating effect. As orange is also a citrus colour, it is often associated with healthy eating and stimulates appetite. Orange is symbolic of strength and endurance.


Joy, happiness and energy exbound from Yellow. It is the colour of intellect and produces cheerfulness, increased menatl activity and muscle energy. Yellow is known to be seen above any other colour when put against black, and is often used in road signs for this purpose. Men see yellow as lighthearted and childish - they see yellow as being anything but prestigious or stable. Bright yellow is a positive colour with positive reaction.  Shades of yellow may appear dim and dingy and evoke opposite reactions such as decay and sickness.

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