Communicating With Colours

Dr Girija Shankar*
Dr Kumar Rajyavardhan*

Colour communication

Colourcan form mental expression and add diversity in language communication. It can be an effective and important communication tool. Psychologically, it affects the mood and mental condition of human being which ultimately creates an impact on the process of communication. It is a critical factor in communication and perception in various ways. 

Colours do not only affect the process of communication but also communicate the meaning. Different colours communicate different meaning in different cultures, religions and societies as does the language. American researchers have explored the meaning of colour communication. Their research was conducted in eight countries. The findings revealed that the primary colours blue, green and white are well liked colors across countries and they share the same meaning,whereas black and red convey different meaning in different countries. The research findings confirmed the association between colour and the meaning and this association is pan cultural.  One of the most important innovations of this research was finding of a consistent pattern of colour clusters for each country. The striking pattern were clustering of white, green and blue; and clustering of brown and black. It implies that it is the psychology of human beings to associate colours which have similar meaning within each country. The meaning may vary according to the culture.

Another research was conducted among students of high school in twenty countries to know about the colour-meaning association. Students were asked to rate seven colours in twelve semantic differential items. The data, collected and analysed for the dimensions of evolution, potency and activity, revealed that the most active colour was red whereas grey and black were the most passive colours. Further, it was found that black is considered the most passive colour. Blue was found to be the most highly evaluated colour, whereas green and white were at the second and third positions. 

A single colour has the potential to communicate different meanings in different cultures. For example, orange is considered in the United States as the colour of road hazards and traffic delays whereas in Asia it communicates a positive meaning associated with spiritual enlightenment and life affirmation. Colour combinations are considered to be culturally bound with certain ideology and tradition (Geboy, 1996). Even colour combination conveys different meanings in different cultures. Black and red signify happiness to Chinese people. In China this combination is widely used in wedding invitation cards and is considered as auspicious. In India yellow and red are considered religious and used for wedding invitations. 

Religion is an important element of culture. Every religion has different meanings for different colour shades and colour associations. Inappropriate use of colour is considered as offensive and can harm the whole communication process. In Christen religion white is considered auspicious. Traditionally, brides wear white dresses on the day of their wedding whereas in Hindu religion white communicates sorrow and loss. Widows wear white dress. In China also white is considered as the colour of mourning. While communicating with the help of colours, religious and cultural considerations should be taken care of otherwise the intended meaning may vary and consequently can create a problematic situation. 

Colours are associated with certain images. Blue is associated with wealth, truth and security. Grey is related with success and strength, whereas orange conveys cheapness. Because of this image association of colours, most of the banks uses different shades of blue and grey for their literature and even their logos. 

The different meanings associated with colours are important for the business world. To communicate a brand image,colours are used as a mechanism for colour transfer. It is beneficial to peruse a customised strategy with respect to the colour associated with brand, package, and web page and so on. Mc Donald’s follows a customized website strategy. They use different websites and different colours for each country. American researcher in 1999 conducted a research in eight countries to know the meanings associated with colours and consumer behavior towards various colour patterns. The result showed that blue, green and white are well liked colours and they have somewhat similar meanings across countries. Black and red also receive high rankings but the meanings are different in different countries. Results also indicated that in many parts of the world consumers exhibited similarities in colour liking and colour meaning associations.

According to psychologists E R Jaench, the climate also influences colour preferences and its meaning. Those who live in warmer countries with plenty of sunlight prefer warm bright colours whereas people living in cold climes with less sunlight prefer less saturated colours. Environment and the climate interpret the way colours are classified on the basis of the relevance they have in everyday life. Eskimos have seventeen words for white to differentiate between different snow conditions.

Colour is a powerful and important communication tool which communicates invisibly. It has the potential to affect human moods. Wessely Kandinsky was one of the pioneers of colour theory. He was a renowned Russian painter and art theorist. Kandinsky believed that following colours communicate the following qualities – 

Yellow – Warmness, Excitement, Happiness
Blue – Peace, Calm, Supernatural, Stillness
White – Silence, Cleanliness, Harmony
Red – Confidence, Alive, Glowing
Orange – Radiant, Healthy, Serious 

It is now an accepted fact that red colour can boost the energy whereas yellow makes people happier. Mental health units use pastel tones on their buildings so that it may create a feeling of calmness, happiness and relaxation.

Colours are linked with religion and political parties. Red is  linked with socialism and communalism. White flag is linked with pacifism and surrender. Green is treated as the holy colour of Islam. Judaism is represented by the colour yellow. In Hinduism most of the gods are said to have blue skin. White is linked to peace across many religions. During communication with various religious groups, communication experts must have the knowledge about the colours and their meanings associated with various religions. Otherwise the chances are that the communication process may not be effective.

When communicating with the colour it should also be kept in mind that age effects people’s colour preferences. Faber Birren, a colour expert has done much research on these areas. In his book “Colour psychology and colour therapy” he mentions that blue and red have a high preference for both genders. He states that yellow is preferred in the lower age group but as people move from childhood to adulthood its popularity declines. With maturity in age people prefer shorter wavelength colours like blue, green and purple. This should be kept in mind during communication with children. According to Birren’s findings, in designing something for the older generation blue, green or purple may be the ideal colours.

Colour shades are very diverse and the meaning communicated or the impression generated by it in the minds of the viewers is also diverse. There are three basic colours red, blue and yellow. These three colours can be converted into thousands of different shades depending upon the composition and preferences. Different shades of these colours create different impressions in the eyes of the viewers. Understanding these can make informed decisions which will appeal to the different targeted audiences. 

In today’s competitive market, communication must be carefully targeted. It is important for a communication expert to understand what the impact of communication and colour use will be on the target group. In the internet age these differences are particularly relevant to advertisers because colour is the first thing which a viewer notices, even before they understand the language or the message.


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