By Julie M. Jones
You’ve been working on a project for months, developing precisely the right content and design to best impact your audience. But have you considered color?
Colors do matter. Colors remind us, warn us, and protect us. They can even persuade us. We all know intuitively that even the shade of a color can have significant—often personal—meaning. The shade of yellow, for example, that reminds you of your grandmother’s comforting kitchen brings up different feelings than the shade of yellow that warns you to yield before entering a busy highway.
So, how do you choose the right colors for your learning project to ensure it’s aesthetically pleasing, stimulates learning, fits within your brand color standards, and appeals to all demographics in today’s adult learner audience of diverse cultures, ages, and experiences?
Though the impact of color can be subjective, a vast amount of examination has been done to better understand the universal effects of color. I’ll break down the research to some key takeaways as well as give you a few tips to help you make better color choices for your next project.
The Science of Color
Diving into the research surrounding color can be daunting. There are countless documented experiments that evaluate the psychology of color, especially as it relates to persuasion, learning, and motivation. In fact, so much work has been done in the field that it can be challenging to distill relevant, consistent information on how color impacts today’s adult learner. That said, there are conclusions we can draw that may help frame your next decisions about color.
- Color is connected to memory
We commit colors to memory for objects we see every day and often fill in those colors when looking at colorless images of those objects. For example, when we look at a black-and-white image of a stop sign, our brain remembers that stop signs are red. These results encourage us to use more black-and-white images in our training, especially for everyday objects, because the impact will be the same as for color images.1
- Cultures have their own associations with certain colors
Depending on where you or your family are from, the same color can signify different things. For example, purple often represents faith in Egypt but usually indicates wealth in Japan. And if you were in Thailand, you might see a widow wearing purple to signify her grief. So if you are addressing a multicultural audience, it’s important to be aware of the many meanings connected to a color to avoid inconsistency in how your message is perceived.2
- Color impacts mood
Research has shown that color choices affect moods and invoke feelings. For example, researchers believe that green shades can promote restfulness and improve efficiency and concentration. Studies show that orange can be a welcoming, uplifting color and can stimulate mental activity. Blues are thought to elicit a sense of calm and relaxation. When making design choices, consider what mood you’d like to encourage in your learners.3
Using What You Know
From an instructional design perspective, it can be daunting to make color choices that consider the diversity of your audience, your brand requirements, and what research has shown—especially when some of these ideas may conflict. So what is the best approach?
Consider these 5 tips:
1. Be mindful of brand standards, but don’t be afraid to use different accent colors or various shades of your standard brand colors.
2. Let research influence—but not dictate—your choices.
3. Try to mix appropriate amounts of different colors to help neutralize inherent negative cultural connotations.
4. Have a good grasp of the purpose of your training and the mood you are trying to achieve before you choose your colors, and then consider how color can serve your goals.
5. Ultimately, trust your taste and the collective opinion of your team: if you agree on a color choice, that may be the best indicator that your audience will respond to it as well!
- Universitaet Tübingen. The visual brain colors black and white images. ScienceDaily website. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031124817.htm. Published October 31, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2018.
- Yusuf. Color and culture: similarities and differences. TranslateMedia website. https://www.translatemedia.com/us/blog-usa/color-culture-similarities-differences/. Published February 23, 2015. Accessed December 6, 2018.
- Effect of different colors on human mind and body. Human N Health website. https://humannhealth.com/effect-of-different-colors-on-human-mind-and-body/243/. Published October 5, 2013. Accessed December 6, 2018.
Julie M. Jones is a creative learning and multimedia developer with a master’s degree in instructional design. A member of the Encompass design team, Julie has a range of experience in diverse business verticals, including software development, banking and finance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences.