The Colour of Success

The Colours Of Success

The Colour of Success

How Colours Affect Mood, Productivity, and Behaviour

Colours have a massive effect on our psyche.

Did you know:

  • 84.7% of consumers cite colour as a primary reason why they buy a product.
  • Research shows that the people make a sub-conscious judgement about an environment within 90 seconds of initially seeing it. Between 62% and 90% of that judgement is based on colour alone.
  • Colour can improve understanding and comprehension by up to 73%.
  • Colour can improve learning (retention and recall of information) by up to 68%.
  • Adverts that are in colour are read 42% more often on average than adverts in black & white.
  • 80% of people think that colour improves brand recognition.

This is an important thing to consider in business, and in the rest of your life. But here’s the weird thing – what we perceive as ‘colour’ isn’t something that ‘belongs’ to the objects we see. It’s just different wavelengths of light.

Yeah, I know, I know. It sounds like the sort of crazy nonsense that you might expect to hear from an ageing acid casualty celebrating the 50thanniversary of the Summer of Love, doesn’t it?


But here’s the thing.

The science and the numbers back up the hippies on this one.

Even the physics and biology of this sound a little bit trippy. A hard fact for you. Colour is not an inherent attribute of an object or the environment – it’s a highly complex human physiological and psychological reaction to electromagnetic radiation (light waves).


Okay… How does that work?

In simple terms, objects around us absorb the light wavelengths that match their atomic structure. Wavelengths that don’t match an object’s atomic structure are reflected away.

So, when we look at an object the light wavelengths that the object can absorb hit our eyes. In the human retina, there are three different types of photoreceptor cells each of which registers a range of light wavelengths.

The photoreceptor cells in our eyes convert the wavelengths they can ‘see’ into electric impulses, which are passed through the optic nerve into the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus, amongst other things, oversees the endocrine system, which produces hormones and thereby impacts on a lot of our behaviour and how we feel.


Okay. That’s all very interesting but what’s the deal? How can I use colour?

Well, how you use colour in the workplace can impact on your team’s productivity, happiness, and general sense of well-being.

How we use colour in branding, advertising, and in our selling channels (shops, websites and so on) will impact on how much we sell. How we use colour in our own lives can impact on our own behaviour.

So, in other words, smart use of colour has a direct impact on productivity, effectiveness, and success.

So, let’s talk about the impact of different colours on our brains

Let’s over-simplify things to start with by saying that, from a psychological point of view, there are four ‘primary’ colours.

Before you put a comment on the article, yes – you’re right; in normal terminology, there are only three primary colours.

In case you’re having trouble remembering your art classes from school, primary colours are those that can be used, through mixing and blending, to produce all other colours within our visual spectrum.

In terms of pigments the three ‘primaries’ are red, yellow, and blue (with secondary colours being green, purple, and orange). In terms of light the three ‘primary’ colours are red, green, and blue (hence the letters ‘RGB’ that you might have seen when looking at the colour balance on your TV).

Psychologically speaking, though, there are four colours that have a ‘primary’ impact on our psycho-physiological responses to our environment. These are red, blue, yellow and green, and we’ll look at each of them in a bit more detail below.


But first, here’s a little story.

There are solid evolutionary reasons why green is such an important colour to human beings. You can probably guess what those reasons are.

Did you know that the human eye can differentiate between more shades of green than any other colour? That’s why night vision goggles use green images.

If you think about it, the reason we can see more shades of green than, say, red, yellow, or blue is obvious.

Way back in our ancient genetic heritage our ape-like ancestors lived in predominantly green environments. Back then, being able to differentiate between foliage and a potential predator was kind of handy.

Being born with a mutation to be able to differentiate between more shades of green was a survival advantage to those ape-like creatures living in the forest, and therefore the sort of mutation that was naturally selected to be bred into the species.

After all, it’s kind of difficult to pass on a genetic trait if you have been killed by a predator; much easier to pass it on if you lived to fight (and procreate) another day.


Back to colour… Here’s a quick step-by-step guide


Looking at the four ‘psychological primary’ colours firstly:


  • Evokes strong emotions; it physically stimulates you.
  • Encourages appetite (think of successful fast food and beverage brands that use a lot of red, like McDonalds, Coca Cola, and Pizza Hut).
  • Passion and intensity – increases heart rate and creates a sense of urgency (think of the number of times you see ‘sale’ and ‘clearance’ or ‘impulse’ purchase messages using a lot of red).
  • Associated with movement and excitement. It’s a ‘high energy’ colour and immediately pulls your focus.


  • Stimulates the nervous system and mental processes, but makes babies cry.
  • Increases cheerfulness and warmth and encourages communication, but also causes strain on the eyes so increases fatigue.
  • From a marketing point of view, it’s a colour that represents optimism and cheerfulness, and is also used to denote ‘cheapness’.



  • If you do a quick Google search you will probably find that blue is usually viewed as the ‘most productive’ colour for a working environment. It is often said to increase concentration levels and focus.
  • It’s a conservative colour promoting a sense of security and trust.
  • There is a male bias, with more men than women saying that blue is their ‘favourite’ colour.
  • It is associated with water and peace and is often seen as representing calmness and serenity, however it can be cold and aloof when used on its own.
  • It curbs appetite and is a ‘non-invasive’ colour. Young people associate blue with maturity.


  • Green is soothing and alleviates depression.
  • It promotes harmony in the brain, a balance between body and emotions.
  • Workers in a predominantly green environment have fewer stomach aches – fewer sick days!
  • It denotes nature and the environment, health and tranquillity, and it symbolises both wealth and fertility.
  • Beyond the colours that have a ‘primary’ psychological impact, there are a few others to be aware of that deserve your attention:
  • Purple – stimulates the problem-solving parts of the brain; is creative, imaginative and wise.
  • Orange – stimulates the logic centres of the brain and promotes enthusiasm; creates a good ‘call to action’ (e.g. – buy, sell, subscribe) and can be a good colour to use to generate ‘impulse’ purchases.
  • Black – can be overwhelming if over-used. Black signifies authority, power, stability and strength and is often used as a symbol of intelligence.
  • Grey – used too excess grey can lead to feelings of ‘nothingness’ but used sparingly it symbolises practicality, timelessness and solidarity.
  • White – associated with purity, cleanliness, and safety. It can be used to project messages of neutrality but, like black, it can be overwhelming if used to excess.

So, let’s cut all fluffy stuff; to be productive I just need to paint my office blue, right?

Well, if you’re working on the interior design for a firm of lawyers or accountants, that’s probably not a bad place to start. But, guess what? It would be a dreadful idea if you were decorating a marketing or design agency.

In that kind of creative environment, you need a workforce that is inspired to feats of imagination by colours like yellow and orange.

In a sales environment, you might want to use some red – big, bold, energising and passionate; exactly the things you might want in a sales force.

And don’t rule out the positive impact that green can have, not only on your team’s sense of wellbeing but also on your customers’ feelings of calm and confidence – not a bad thing to remember in any environment where money might be changing hands!

Also, just to add another factor for you to consider… it’s not just the colour that impacts on our brain chemistry, it’s the shade. What impacts on whether a colour has a stimulating or soothing effect on us is the intensity of the shade – how saturated that colour is.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this?

Skillfully using different colours in the right shades and the right combinations with one another can have a significant impact on the overall environment.

The chances are you already understand this intuitively.

You know that your office can’t just be like an explosion in a paint factory – you need to have colours complementing one another and working together to produce the best results.

  • Understand what result you are looking for (what’s most important? Is it productivity, serenity, imagination? Is it passion, cheerfulness?) Use that to define your colour palette.
  • When you know what colours ought to be in your palette, design a colour scheme for your brand, your selling environment, or your working environment that best gets you to your end goal.

Thanks for reading, and if you think that this information will be of use to someone else you know, please don’t hesitate to click the link below to share it.

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