Many psychologists researching the process by which humans see and process visual information conclude that it is influenced highly by color. For example, the May 2002 Journal of Experiential Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition reported the findings of one study that indicated that people did not remember falsely colored photographic scenes any better than those same scenes in black-and-white. They remembered the natural-colored images the best. Relating to psychology, it also seems that when people think of a certain color, their minds form a corresponding color model; when they think pink, they actually visualize a rosy hue.
Color Associations Aid Memory
Different cultures have different associations with colors. Hues such as red and blue are not just colors; they are emotions, feelings, reflections, and memories. Seeing or thinking about color produces certain reactions in people. Color associations often become part of the semantic structure of color names themselves. For example, magenta, one of the first aniline dyes, was discovered shortly after the Battle of Magenta, which occurred near the northern Italian town of Magenta. The color was named for the battle and, therefore, indirectly for the town. Chartreuse is a yellow-green color named for the famous French liqueur of the same name. These types of associations are endless and can be leveraged to associate clients' products and services with colors.
Color Symbolism Is Culturally Linked
Interestingly, the world seems divided into groups with similar ideas about color symbolism. In a 1999 study published by Kawade Shoboh Shinsha, a Japanese professor named Hideaki Chijiiwa grouped countries as follows: China, Taiwan, and Russia; Japan, Korea, and Finland; the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore; France, Brazil, and Portugal; and India, Laos, and Bangladesh. Cultural factors are at work here, and understanding the similarities and differences in audiences will always make for better design in our increasingly global community.
Cultural, political, and linguistic factors, including both abstract and symbolic components, affect our perception of colors. Color motivates a response because of memories. A person may buy the green-colored soap packaging because it reminds him or her of fresh-mown grass, for example. Couple visual information with the expected fragrance—green soap that actually smells like grass—and the design is even more effective.
A further enhancement is the idea of developing a proprietary color that represents a client. Associating distinctive colors with products and services is one of the cornerstones of brand identity work. Some of the world's most memorable companies have strong connections to color—think of Kodak's chrome yellow and Fuji's bright green film boxes. Whether or not it is possible to trademark a color is an ongoing battle, generating many lawsuits, but color is undisputedly an important branding tool.