The Psychology Of Color And Sign Design: The Perfect Pair


In The Spirit Of Dance: Ozo Dance
Painting By Chidi Okoye


Blue Dance Greeting Card by Chidi Okoye

Blue Dance
Greeting Card by Chidi Okoye

Take A Message

What do you feel when you look at the first image above? What about the one below that? Don’t consciously think about it, just gauge your immediate reactions. Chances are, the first image makes you feel much happier and more positive than the second. This is all thanks to the psychological power of color. Even though both pieces of art are similar in form and subject, and were created by the same artist, the moods of the works are totally different. It’s easy to see that color is the main reason for this because it’s possible to imagine reverse color schemes — with the multiple colors applied to the bottom picture and the blues on the first piece instead — and yet still find it’s the colors that evoke the feelings.

The effect of only one color used — a monochromatic color scheme — makes the psychological effects of color even stronger and this gives us something to think about when designing signs or designing a banner. Have you noticed that serious, instructive types of signs tend to have the fewest colors while the most festive kinds often are multi-colored? A ” Warning, Fire Hazard” sign would look quite ridiculous done in a rainbow of colors and a “Happy 5th Birthday, Mitchell” sign would be considered a little too somber and cold for a children’s party if it was all in navy blue.

As designer Erin Shimamoto points out in her August 9, 2013 blog post, “The Necessity of Color Psychology in Graphic Design” on, “graphic designers often lean on color psychology to guide them in successfully incorporating certain colors into any web or print material they produce” mainly “to allow the intended message to be conveyed in a sublte and easy way with depth  …”

Nothing More Than Feelings?

Red is most psychologically associated with passion, power, stimulation and excitement. In sign making red is often used to command attention instructively (think stop signs and no parking signs) and also to convey romance such as in heart symbols or images of red roses on a banner to promote a Valentine’s Day dance.

Orange tends to evoke feelings of warmth and vitality. It’s an attention-getting color often felt as embodying enthusiasm in a stimulating way. It’s no wonder this is a popular color in fast food restaurants as it can psychologically stimulate the appetite — unlike the color, blue which is more of an appetite suppressant.

Yellow is a primary color that many people psychologically associate with sunniness, intelligence and happiness. In too large of amounts though, bright yellow may induce feelings of annoyance or anger. In sign design, yellow is best used in small does to get attention or express cheerfulness.

A Little Yellow Can Go A Long Way


"Girl Groove" Kids' Fabric

“Girl Groove” Kids’ Fabric

Yellow Swatch

Yellow Swatch

How do you feel after looking at each of the two swatches above? Does your initial reaction to the images change after a few minutes? Do you find the solid yellow harder to look at longer than the “loud” color pattern?

Green suggests nature, calmness, regrowth and renewal. It’s also psychologically connected to money, wealth, balance and stability. In sign design, green can be used to balance out the effects of other colors.

Blue is a primary color that suggests stability, authority, spirituality and depth in its darker shades and airiness, dreaminess, friendliness and an easygoing attitude in its lighter tints. Blue is also psychologically associated with seas and skies in nature and formality when darkened and casualness when lightened. Blue is often used in sign making for informative business messages.

Violet  or purple is connected to thoughts of royalty and luxury, especially in its darker shades, but is also psychologically associated with creativity and imagination. Lighter tints of lavender and lilac evoke thoughts of flowers and romance. A little purple or violet can add interest to signs. 

The Power Of Neutral Colors In Design



Ten Easy Methods To Combine And Match Patterns In Your Residence

If you must have a lot of pattern in a sign for some reason, it’s usually best to stick with mostly neutral colors to allow the eyes to deal with so much design going on! Black is a grounding color that can add drama, but of course it’s used also for text for clarity and readability. White adds freshness and relief for the eye from images in signs, but too much of it can create a psychological feeling of too much empty space in a sign. Sign makers need to work carefully with lighter greys and browns as these may appear as too neutral or bland, yet darker shades of these neutrals can create feelings of luxury and sophistication.

We hope this post will empower and inspire you to have a lot of fun experimenting with color on!