You see thousands of colors every day, and most of them were picked for a specific purpose. For example, would you pay as much attention to a McDonald’s sign, or even quickly recognize it as a McDonald’s sign, without the company’s signature bright red and bright yellow?
Companies like McDonald’s, Target, Ikea, and Starbucks choose bright, eye-catching colors so that their name and brand are easily recognizable. Their color selection is designed to grab your attention.
Colors aren’t just used by companies to help you recognize their presence; they’re also chosen strategically to make you feel certain things. For example, think about a baby’s nursery. Most nurseries aren’t painted in lime green or neon pink; they’re painted in soft pastel shades and pale colors. That’s because bright, electric colors are used to energize us and soft, pale colors are used to soothe us, and parents don’t want their new baby energized and wide awake at three in the morning!
There are other ways that color choices can be used to influence us psychologically, and that’s by looking at colors in combination with one another, or as a color palette. Does green by itself make you think of Christmas? Probably not, but pair red and green together and you create an immediate association with the holiday. Orange alone doesn’t necessarily scream “boo” for Halloween, but paired with black, Halloween is likely the first thing that comes to mind.
Sometimes color combinations aren’t tied to one specific theme or holiday, but evoke an immediate reaction in us anyway—if the colors chosen in the combination are complementary or coordinating, that color palette looks pleasing to the eye; if the colors are contrasting, you might feel an instant dislike.
Complementary colors are colors that are directly opposite one another on the color wheel. These colors can be combined to make very eye-catching palettes because the two colors create such a strong contrast when paired together. Split complementary colors involve a three-color palette—two colors near one another on the color wheel, and one color that is opposite the middle of the space between the two neighboring colors.