The Digital Signage Insider

Making great digital signage content: Does color matter?

Published on: 2008-04-23

Quick: what's your favorite color? I bet the answer popped into your head before you even had a chance to think about it. Color is funny like that -- though we frequently can't explain why, we tend to have preferences for certain ones over others. Some of our color preferences may change with the fashion and design trends of the day. Others may remain with us throughout life. Some are born out of patriotism or nostalgia, while others come from memories with strong emotional attachments. Whatever the cause, there's no doubt that colors can grab our attention, make us stop in our tracks and even play to our emotions. But does that mean that color can change the way that digital signage content works?

There are many conflicting views about how colors affect our physiology and psychology. While researchers have proven that colors can alter moods and even raise blood pressure, most viewers aren't going to pay enough attention to the typical content clip running on a digital sign to feel the full effect of this (versus, say, looking at art or even watching a 30-minute TV program). Thus we're forced to look for more subtle ways that colors can influence our behaviors. While I could posit my own theories on this, the folks at Mohawk (yes, the flooring/carpeting manufacturer) have already done the heavy lifting for us. In fact, C.B. Whittemore posted part of Mohawk's guide to color on her Flooring the Consumer blog, along with four other posts about the power of whites, patterns, neutrals and eco-inspired colors. I've paraphrased their more interesting findings here and combined them with some other details that we've compiled over time:

Red

  • Causes adrenaline to be released, increasing pulse rate and blood pressure
  • Heightens sense of smell; taste buds become sensitive, appetite improves
  • When white is added to red, the color evokes feelings of innocence, tenderness and softness

Pink

  • Relaxes the body, lowers pulse and blood pressure
  • Lends a feminine image to the subject matter
  • Strongly associated with Breast Cancer Awareness movement in the US

Purple

  • Typically relaxing, though can occasionally have the opposite effect
  • Can be used as either a warm or cool color

Blue

  • Relaxes the body, lowers pulse and blood pressure
  • Can reduce feelings of claustrophobia
  • Currently, the most common "favorite color" in the US

Green

  • The human eye can perceive the widest array of green colors, so even minor clashes are very apparent
  • Associated with springtime and the environment
  • At present, it's being re-branded into the banner concept for a socio-political movement, which may create strong positive or negative connotations for different people

Yellow

  • While it has no proven physiological effects, people who see the color yellow claim to become more happy and cheerful
  • May focus attention and concentration
  • The association of yellow to the sun is near universal and cross-cultural

Brown

  • Commonly associated with stability and natural/rugged things
  • Almost never selected as a favorite color

Orange

  • Evokes an energetic response from viewers
  • Like red, orange stimulates the appetite
  • Like yellow, creates feelings of energy and happiness
  • Children respond especially well to orange
Many of these color relationships may seem obvious to you, but there are some important caveats to keep in mind. While some colors evoke near-universal symbolism (green and yellow in particular), others may have different connotations in different cultures. For example, a white wedding dress is usually preferred in the US (evoking purity), but a red dress may be the ideal choice in China (signifying good luck). Also, even the most pronounced effects are fairly minimal and fleeting, like the idea of using red to set a viewer on edge. And of course, no matter how much research you do, different colors will mean different things to different people. We've each built up a unique body of experiences during the course of our lives, and this often trumps any larger societal associations or fashion trends.

So what do we recommend then? Despite all of the theory floating around, we've seen no over-arching relationship between color and content performance for glance-type digital signage. There were some unique cases where changing a clip's color may have altered its performance, but at this point I don't feel like there's any predictable or reproducible way to see the effect. In my book, that means the correlation between color and recall performance either doesn't exist, is too small to be noticed, or is too difficult for us to manipulate properly.

With that in mind, I'd say that color can safely be used to meet the brand/style requirements of your venue or advertiser, fit into your venue's "clean store policy" (if they have one), or meet any other marketing or aesthetic goal -- all without impacting performance too severely. Now, there are obviously limits to that: if you put dark pink on a light red background it's going to be hard to see. And that brings us to our next subject: contrast. You see, there were times when we tweaked different color settings and did in fact see a significant change in content performance. After careful analysis, though, we found that it wasn't the emotive effects of the color palette that we were seeing. It was a change in contrast that suddenly made the content more eye-catching and more visible to a greater number of potential viewers. So next week, we're going to take a look at some guidelines for using contrast to pop your message off the screen and into your viewers' minds. In my opinion, contrast is the most important visual design element for digital signage content. Together with skilled copywriting and an enticing call-to-action, it can make a measurable difference in the success of your advertising and informational messaging.

Then again, maybe color is more valuable than I've suggested. So if you have any stories about how changing the colors in a clip improved its performance, leave a comment and let me know!


Comments   

0 Will 2009-05-18 12:29
"Heightens sense of smell; taste buds become sensitive, appetite improves..When white is added to red, the color evokes feelings of innocence, tenderness and softness" For red? I don't personal feel this is accurate. Red is an advancing color. That's why stop signs are red. A stop sign doesn't enhance your appetite or evoke feelings of innocence, tenderness and softness. Red is used in fast food restaurants to get your attention. Compare fast food logos and signage to high end restaurants and you will see what I mean. Color is only one of the elements of design. In order to get the greatest impact and clarity of a design we need to use the max amount of elements in harmony that support the concept.
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0 Bill Gerba 2009-05-31 16:50
Hi Will: I'm with you, it seems unlikely. However, there's a large and highly-regarded body of research that catalogs the physiological effects of colors on us. Note that I mentioned that in all of our research we **couldn't** actually see any of these effects in play on the digital signage systems we were tracking. So, obviously one's mileage will vary, and it seems like a bad idea to rely on any kind of color-based physiological effects.
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0 I agree 2011-11-07 18:15
I agree man color affects everything I been looking into colors for awhile and most websites say only blue lowers pulse
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0 Angelica Pestrano 2013-06-12 15:22
For me it really depends on how you use the color. There is no such thing as wrong color. It depends on what product you have or what services you offer your clients. Anyway, your blog is very helpful. Thank you for sharing your blog.
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