Love/Hate – The Power of Colour

21/01/2021 | Graphic Design

One of the first questions I ask a client before I start working on a new project with them is ‘What colour(s) do you hate?’ Yes, HATE. A question that most times is met with a surprised expression, a slightly raised eyebrow and I can almost see them thinking ‘why is she asking me that?’

Hate is a strong word of course but a colour we dislike can evoke a strong emotional reaction in us, a reaction caused by a powerful association we have with that colour, an association from a negative experience from some time in our lives. And for that reason (whatever it may be) we don’t like that colour! Sometimes we know the reason we dislike or HATE a certain colour and other times it is so deep in our psyche that we just know that we don’t like it. End of.

A group of designers holds business meeting
Once I’ve asked the ‘hate’ question, I move on to ‘What colour(s) do you LOVE’ ?
I would estimate that less than 40% of clients will be able to give me examples of colours they LOVE.
However, upwards of 80% will be able to tell me which colour (or colours) they HATE, so it makes sense to ask the ‘hate’ question first, as generally the client will have a response. The ‘LOVE’ question on the other hand tends to get responses such as “to be honest, I’m not sure”.

With any design project you need to know what colours the client likes or dislikes – and sometimes they just don’t know what colours they like – but knowing what colour(s) they dislike is nearly more important. With any design project you need to know what colours the client likes or dislikes – and sometimes they just don’t know what colours they like – but knowing what colour(s) they dislike is nearly more important.

I could create the best, most relevant, exciting design for a client, ensuring all the requirements listed in their brief have been met, but say they HATE green and I show them my design in green, or even mainly green and I can nearly guarantee that they will reject it straight off the bat…. because all they can ‘see’ is the green.

They can’t see the forest for the… GREEN!

It happens in other sectors too….
My Dad always swore blind he would never buy a green car – he ‘saw’ green as being unlucky. And I bet he’s not the only person to ever reject a car because of its colour alone. Or the person who views a property – the house with a big garden, amazing views, great location, 6 bedrooms all en-suite, ample parking – but alas they can’t see past the vomit green wallpaper in the hall or the stunning avocado green bathroom suite. ‘Faults’ that are of course easily remedied but not to that person who will always associate that house with the colour green which they detest, so by default they feel the same about the house. No surprise then that it is recommended to those who are selling up, to paint their homes in a neutral palette before putting it on the market. Then, prospective buyers can fully ‘see’ the important elements of the home, the structure, the rooms, space etc. rather than being subconsciously ‘blocked’ by a colour they dislike!
Intuitive Process
I use the same format when designing corporate identities… I will only submit my initial proposals in one colour, black. In this way, the client can ‘really see’ the structure, the elements, the shape and the message of the logo designs without being ‘blinded’ or blocked by their subliminal view of a colour.

My addition of colour palettes (to the logo) will only be applied once the logo already works for the client in black. And I also do this for another important reason – it is preferable to have your logo in a one colour option (as well as the chosen brand palette) as sometimes you may need to use your logo just in white or another single colour so it is important to create that option at the outset.

When choosing colour palettes, I also consider many things such as how colours are interpreted by people in general, how colour pairings can have certain associations and also which colours are considered industry norms etc… But that is too in-depth to get into here…
See my blog post on Colour Psychology here.

The power of colour struck me during a lecture given by the then Head of Design at the college where I studied. It was the start of my second year of a three-year HND and he was imposing on us the high drop-out rate from that HND due to the pressure and deadlines that the design students would be under. Our first year had been an introduction to the world of design but second year was when it got serious! A real sink or swim situation. And what has this got to do with the power of colour? Well, he stood there in front of the class, marching back and forth, telling us that by Christmas more than a third of us would have thrown in the towel. He had a very commanding presence and most of us, myself included, were more than a little afraid of him!

“…by Christmas over a third of you will be gone. If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes, then leave now! If you stay, you better give 110% and then some”.
He then went on to start into his lecture on you guessed it, COLOUR. I sat there a little anxty and all I can remember of that lecture after that is him saying:
“… and NEVER EVER present me with any project in which the predominant colour is pink! You will be guaranteed to get a fail from me…. I downright HATE pink!”
Probably not what he said word for word but it’s the jist of what I remember and you get the idea! I never learned WHY he hated pink… maybe he had some very overbearing sisters, who knows. I survived the 3 years and graduated with flying colours (pun intended!) and I never did dare hand in a project in pink!

I also to this day, nearly 30 years later, find it a little strange that the Head of Design could have an aversion to ANY colour but he was an honest (if a little bristly) man who told it like it is and most of us in Graphics 2 had a great respect for him. If he hated pink, that was OK with us! His no nonsense approach prepared us well for the real world of agency work and what that involved.

Summing up
If you have a preference or aversion for any colour or colours, it is important to relay that information to your designer (or car dealership or estate agency…) as regardless of the colours seen as the industry norm, if you don’t like that colour but your designer chooses to use it in your brand palette or any of your online/offline marketing, it will never ‘sit well’ with you. You will struggle to get behind your marketing and push your business forward. You need to be happy with your branding and marketing materials to use them to promote your business, which at the end of the day is their sole purpose in the first place, promoting your business. If your designer is worth their salt, they will want to understand this and create a logo and branding that you LOVE and will want to show off to the world!
So ask yourself that question…..
And then let me help you with your next design project…

Janine Sullivan

Graphic Designer. 25+ years in the biz. Passionate about design. Happiest at home with my husband and two daughters. I’m mad about dogs, especially my own. Not many vices… just wine and chocolate! Comedy and modern music are my daily therapy.