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Communicating colours beyond space and time

How much do colours influence our choices? During election season, we are surrounded by posters and visual communication media that inevitably try to reach voters through slogans and colours to convey emotions, create atmospheres, and influence people’s perceptions.

It is a rich and complex language that deserves to be explored and understood to fully exploit its potential in visual communication and creative expression. Every person is unique and different. However, despite all our differences, we have at least one thing in common: we all live on the same planet. The colours that paint in our reality, and the words we use to describe them, offer an interesting window into the human psyche.

Colours and feelings

The importance of colours in communication goes far beyond individual emotional reactions. It is indeed a universal language understood by people from different cultures, languages and backgrounds. Without the need for words, messages, ideas and values can still be conveyed.

Our graphic designer, Simona Inglese, helped shed some light on the interesting association that each colour may have: «Blue is typically linked to trust, which is why many banks and insurance companies use it in their logos. At the same time, colours like red and yellow convey energy and can also be used by brands like McDonald’s or Lego to underscore that they are suitable for children».

In marketing and advertising, colours are indeed used to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. A company logo with vibrant shades suggests dynamism and innovation, while a more subdued and refined design can communicate reliability and professionalism. «First of all, it’s important to know what emotional goal you want your brand or campaign to achieve – adds our graphic designer – for example, if your campaign focuses on creativity or playfulness, you should choose orange because of its warmth and enthusiasm».

Although each colour has its own function, in marketing and branding, blue is considered the most important. In an article by  Wordstream, the author claims that when uncertain of what colour to use “add some blue”: blue is the most popular colour across the world, it’s associated with some of the biggest brands like Facebook, Pepsi, IBM and PayPal. 

History behind colour’s psychology

Certain  colours can be associated with a feeling or an idea due to historical reasons. For example, in Italy, it is considered unlucky to wear purple to the theatre. The origin of this superstition has roots in mediaeval practices. During Lent, the Church prohibited theatrical performances. This meant that actors couldn’t work and therefore didn’t have any income to sustain themselves for 40 days. More and more people began to develop aversion towards purple because it was the colour of clergy during Lent.

Therefore, every country may associate colours with something different, for example you wouldn’t use the colour green to communicate luck if your target is the Chinese market, since, in China, red is the colour of luck, wealth and happiness. 

Anthropological influence on colours

The perception of colours and their association with language can also be influenced by anthropological motivations. In 1969, two Berkeley researchers claimed that every culture has developed a specific way of describing colours, following a common pattern. 

According to this theory, some colours are considered more fundamental than others, and this is reflected in the words that cultures have used to describe them. In particular, it is observed that black, white and red were the primary ones, as they are present in every known language. The motivation is probably linked to their importance in daily life and human experiences. 

However, cultures differ in how they describe other nuances. For example, languages that have words for four colours often include green or yellow, while those six words also add blue. These differences may reflect the specific cultural properties and needs of each society. For instance, people living in a vegetation-rich environment might develop a richer vocabulary to describe shades of green.

This theory provides insight into how human cultures relate to the visual world around them. Colours deeply rooted in customs, experiences, and cultural interactions. Exploring how different societies interpret and describe colours can offer valuable insights into the complexity of the human mind and the richness of cultural diversity that characterises our planet.

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