Using Color Theory & Psychology in Digital Signage Design

EPISODE 81 | Guest: Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix

Digital signage is all about attention and impact, and color is one of the most powerful and flexible tools in your design arsenal. But you have to choose hues that are both appropriate and engaging for the target audience. Knowing how different groups perceive and react to different colors is an important part of crafting quality designs, and can either boost or torpedo your messages.

In this episode, we’ll talk about color theory and psychology, step through some of the most common color associations, and give you practical tips and links that can help you design better content.

  • Learn the difference between color theory and color psychology
  • Explore common color associations
  • Understand how cultural differences can affect color perception
  • Tips for making color count in digital signage designs
  • Get links to color palettes, generators and more articles

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Get more screen design advice in our Masterclass Guide 4: Digital Signage Design


Derek DeWitt: Pablo Picasso once said, “Colors follow the changes of the emotions.” There’s certainly a connection in humans between colors and emotions and associations, which is why color theory is so important when designing for anything. We’re gonna talk about using color theory and psychology in digital signage design specifically today. Though, what we talk about applies to lots of different design contexts. And my guest today is Debbie DeWitt, marketing communications manager for Visix. Hi Debbie.

Debbie DeWitt: Hi, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: What’s happening?

Debbie DeWitt: Colors are happening.

Derek DeWitt: Yes, they are. We’re gonna dive into the rainbow and find out what’s at the bottom in today’s episode of Digital Signage Done Right. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to this podcast.

Okay. So, there is a difference between color psychology and color theory. They’re not the same thing, right?

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Color theory kind of builds on color psychology.

Derek DeWitt: Color psychology is a science, and it actually studies how color affects human emotions, but also human behavior.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, it’s odd. But we do, we react to colors based on a combination of emotions, personal taste, you know, obviously culture, our upbringing. So, we actually have sort of visceral reactions to certain colors because we associate them with certain things in our minds.

Derek DeWitt: Whereas color theory is kind of where the science of color psychology, and I guess I wanna call it more artsy type stuff, kind of blend together.

Debbie DeWitt: Basically, color theory takes color psychology and what we found out about that. And then it throws on a bunch of terminology and guidance on how to use that and blend colors and use them for more impact in design. And like things, when you hear about the color wheel, or we talk about primary colors and secondary colors, that all comes out of color theory based on psychology.

Derek DeWitt: So today we’re gonna kind of skim the surface of what that all is and kind of specifically focus on what digital signage designers need to keep in mind. Keep in mind please folks, check the transcript and the show notes for lots and lots of external links to further resources.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. We have a lot of links for more into color theory because we’re gonna, we’re gonna really focus on the emotional impact of designs. And there’s a lot more to it, a lot of terminology that you may or may not want to get into.

Derek DeWitt: Okay. So, let’s talk about perceived meanings of colors first.

Debbie DeWitt: It’s a really broad spectrum.

Derek DeWitt: Wow. I see what you did there. That’s very good.

Debbie DeWitt: Pun intended.

Derek DeWitt: Pun intended. Often people will say things like, you know, green is jealousy or, you know, red is anger and stuff like this. And yet certain shades and hues have different connotations as well.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. Well, actually those are two color theory terms you just used. And most of what we’re gonna focus on is hue.

Derek DeWitt: Oh. I’m so smart.

Debbie DeWitt: You had no idea. So yeah. Hue is kind of the base color. When you say red, we all know there are a hundred different shades of red or tints. So, when we talk about these colors, we’re just talking about the base color. But yeah, you can absolutely shift, you know, emotions by shifting just the shade a little bit, tinting it a little differently. Um, so you can evoke different feelings with that. You were mentioning like, yeah, red is anger, green is jealousy. But you know, I think about like take one color. Okay. So, like, let’s take green. Now, if you think about a very light green, how does that make you feel?

Derek DeWitt: Relaxed, I guess.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Actually it’s, it’s suggested in like paint swatches that you paint your rooms light green if you want it to be a relaxing area. A. lot of spas do this. A lot of people do it for a baby’s room.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, I know you told me some years ago that you saw something. Interior designers very often will paint a room’s walls kind of a lighter green in order to make the space feel bigger.

Debbie DeWitt: It’s stress free or relaxing in some way, and so we feel like there’s more space to it. I mean, interior design’s a whole ‘nother science, which is just crazy. But, if that’s a light green, you take a hunt green.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, sure. Yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: You know that you see that in a library. You think of maybe a forest. If you’re a kid like me who wouldn’t eat anything green, you think of spinach or brussels sprouts, you know, when you get into dark stuff. But now if I say avocado green, what do you think?

Derek DeWitt: 1975.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah? What do you think of?

Derek DeWitt: Uh, a refrigerator, because we had an avocado green refrigerator in the mid to late seventies.

Debbie DeWitt: So did I. So did we all, as well as matching, like flat carpet with like black spec? I don’t know.

Derek DeWitt: Right. That and then, yeah, or carpet with like brown and orange. Those are the other: brown, orange and avocado green.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. So avocado, a lot of people, you just say avocado as a color, and they think, if they’re our age, they think of the seventies. But, so that just gives you an idea of, even though we’re talking about a basic color like green, all those different shades and tints all have different psychological effects or memories associated with them.

Derek DeWitt: You know, I also think of, we mention red. Red, people often go, ooh, it’s the color of anger. And painters like Edvard Munch when he painted The Scream specifically put a particular kind of blood red in the sky because he wanted it to evoke blood and thus violence and death in people’s minds. And yet McDonald’s learned very early on that a certain shade of red and a certain shade of yellow actually stimulate physical hunger in people, which is why they chose the shades that they did.

Debbie DeWitt: Interesting. And that’s why every other fast food like burger place uses red and yellow. If you look around, like they’re all using that.

Derek DeWitt: You know, I’m from the San Francisco Bay area. And I remember years ago, they brought in a color psychologist (now this is in the eighties) to San Quentin prison, which is just north of San Francisco. And they said, hey, we need to do something sort of in the common, I don’t wanna call it relaxing room, but room that people hang out in and where they eat, the prisoners. We need to find a way to make people calmer ’cause we have a lot of fights in here. So, the person painted the walls pink thinking that that was a relaxing color. And violent incidents went up five times because in fact, the shade of pink that the interior designer had chosen in fact stimulates aggression.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. It’s very different to put a very pale, pastel pink or a magenta. Some sort of angry pink.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Because that was the idea is like, you know, it’s a men’s prison and they didn’t want to put like rose pink ’cause then the men would be insulted ’cause that’s a girl’s color. So, they did this kind of hot pink and it actually made people crazy.

Debbie DeWitt: You know me, I’m always like, uh, I’d wanna see all the stats. What else was going on? Can you just blame the paint? Don’t just blame the paint. Maybe something else happened, you know.

Derek DeWitt: There was led in the water also.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. I mean correlation does not always mean causation.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. I mean, uh, a lot of that stuff is super interesting. A little beyond the scope of this particular podcast episode. Smashing Magazine has a really interesting three part series on color theory. So again, check the transcript and episode notes for a link to that if you want to get more into that, you know, kind of thing. So, let’s go through the colors. Let’s just, we’ll start off at one end of the spectrum with red.

Debbie DeWitt: Red’s a really bold, strong color. It al­ways gets attention. But this is one where I think the context definitely determines positive or negative effect, and very much culturally as well.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. A lot of people think that the reason that all humans notice red is because it’s the color that blood turns when it hits oxygen. When blood oxidizes it turns red. So, if you see bright red, you know, 200,000 years ago, that’s probably blood. And so, oh, I better pay attention.

Debbie DeWitt: Interesting.

Derek DeWitt: Obviously, people also associate it because of with blood. They associate it with violence and thus conflict and warfare. They also consider fire as well. And yet also notice, it’s about love and passion as well. Again, I think, because the heart is the thing that pumps the blood through the body.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. But then we socialize it and normalize it with Valentine’s Day and things like that and cute images. And so, when I look at a Valentine’s Day heart, I don’t see blood, you know. I think love. I think, you know, it makes you happy.

Derek DeWitt: Unless you’re a fan of the group My Bloody Valentine.

Debbie DeWitt: Okay, I’m gonna stick with happy. It makes you happy. You know, so again, that’s like something that actually comes from a somewhat similar source or maybe a singular source, but has now two very different emotional connotations.

Derek DeWitt: Mm-hmm. But then we also have, uh, anger because people’s faces turn red when they get angry.

Debbie DeWitt: I blame cartoonists. No one actually turns red.

Derek DeWitt: Oh well, it depends.

Derek DeWitt: It’s more of a pink.

Derek DeWitt: But also danger, right? Uh, or stop or don’t do it. Red light at a traffic signal or semaphore. Red stop sign. The red light for the warning: beep beep beep. You know, the bomb that for some reason the evil mastermind has set up with a countdown clock conveniently, and you know, very often it’s, there’s a red light there and people go, oh, it’s danger.

Debbie DeWitt: I’m gonna bring it back to digital signs for a second. But a lot of people use red for alert messages and things like that. Because, you know, hopefully I will say, you’ve already trained everybody when you see a fullscreen red message, it means an alert and pay attention, and you’re not doing all of your other messages in red, so there’s no difference.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. Red has always been associated with alarms and alerts. And, you know, if you think about fire trucks.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: You know, I’m not sure the source of that. But yeah, we, we always have red sirens, at least in America. There are a lot of sirens, now they’ve switched more to blue and white, but you know, we used to have the red on top of the black and white cop cars and that kind of thing.

Derek DeWitt: Right, right, right. But there’s also, sometimes there’s certain shades of red and with certain textures of say fabric, uh, are luxurious. I’m thinking of the red carpet.

Debbie DeWitt: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, think of, I don’t know, I’m gonna guess anything David Lynch ever did, he’s got red velvet drapes in it.

Derek DeWitt: Or, or, or burgundy very often too.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. So, I think it’s, it’s also used for luxury. If you think of rubies, if you think of the red carpet. If you think of, I mean, if you say like plush velvet, most people are gonna think red or black.

Derek DeWitt: Now in China, the Cardinal direction South and the color red are both associated with good luck, specifically wealth. Which is why in people who follow Feng Shui, you’re supposed to paint your Southern wall red.

Debbie DeWitt: Is that just China? Am I, am I wrong? Am I wrong that people wear red to weddings in the subcontinent as well?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Very often you’ll find brides will be wearing red on their wedding day. And yet in South Africa, it’s the color of death and mourning. M O U R N I N G.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. It’s interesting that in certain places it can be the best color to see and in others it can be the worst color.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Exactly.

Debbie DeWitt: I mean, I will say, we are gonna be Americentric on this podcast because most of the folks listening to it are in the US and Canada, but certainly, you always need to know your audience. When we’re talking about these colors and as you’re thinking about using them in your digital signage designs, you have to know your audience. And pay attention if you’re publishing to different offices around the world that you don’t just create one, shall we say, bright red message and send it off to different cultures not knowing…

Derek DeWitt: Happy birthday! And people in the Johannesburg office are like, oh, what happened?

Debbie DeWitt: Right. You always need to be sensitive to the cultural differences you might find. So, just, you know, the great news is we all have Google and there are articles galore that tell you different colors and what they mean in different places. And if you have employees in those places, ask them. It may not be a big deal. Someone…

Derek DeWitt: And you might be surprised sometimes too. Like, I know we’re talking about color but like when it comes to numbers, in China four is the number of death.

Debbie DeWitt: That’s crazy.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. All right. So moving on up, when we mix red with yellow, we get orange. Now I always think of orange as a kind of a, a stimulating color.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. It’s actually, I mean, it can, ’cause I mean, I think the first thing we all think of when you say orange is an orange, so it’s a…

Derek DeWitt: Or pumpkin, I think of pumpkins, and I think of pumpkin pie and then I get hungry.

Debbie DeWitt: That’s true. That’s actually two great examples. Because an orange, if you think of, in going to a different sense, in the flavor an orange is citrus and bright and sweet, and then a pumpkin is like earthy and umami. So, kind of the same thing for those colors. It’s often used to symbolize change, like the leaves changing in autumn. Um, it does grab attention, like you said. It’s, it’s quite bright, but it’s not as strong as red. Red without as strong of emotional connotations and it doesn’t grab the eye quite as quickly. Now, again, this all depends on your hues and shades, you know?

Derek DeWitt: Right. So then, we go to the next primary color, which is yellow. I think people usually think happiness and sunshine and daffodils and smiley faces. I mean the smiley face emoji is yellow.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, definitely. I mean, this is again, I think, you know, I always think of lemons if you say yellow. But this has, yellow’s got a huge range. You know, if you think about it, the smiley face that, the original smiley face design that we all grew up with, you know like, that’s actually kind of a darker yellow. So, pastels are gonna be neutral and calming. Darker shades are gonna give like an antiquey feeling. You know, sepia is kind of between, it’s like a tanish yellow. But if you yellow your images, it can make them look older or antiquey.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, that makes sense. Because that’s what happens to physical photographs over time is they, they yellow.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, and paper. I’ve, we’ve done that. We’ve actually mocked up, just take regular paper and then age it by using some food coloring and things. If you wanna like take a picture of something to make it look like an old scroll so you can do that kind of thing.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure. All right. So now we move on a little further along the spectrum, we get to green. Which is, I know we talked a little bit about it, it really depends on the shade that you’re using. I mean, you can have, obviously people think of plants, they think of grass, they think of growth. But then they also think of money, but then money can also make you think of envy and jealousy and all this kind of grr, grr, grr stuff.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. And I tend to like, there’s very modern, like mossy or pastel greens. They’re much more calming. Again, it’s about how you treat them and what other colors you pair them with is important. And something to note, as we’re talking about this, is that Pantone has a color of the year, every year, and you can look at that. And they also offer a ton of swatch combinations to let you know, this is gonna look good alongside a turquoise or a plum or whatever. So, they actually do a lot of recommending of color combinations that you can use.

Derek DeWitt: And then we get to blue. I think a lot of people when asked what their favorite color is, they say blue.

Debbie DeWitt: And it’s funny for, for organizations, it’s like the most popular color used in logos, like over 50% of logos use blue. And if it’s not in the logo, it’s probably in your brand identity colors. If you’re pairing something, like you see a lot of blue being a secondary color, if it’s not the primary.

Derek DeWitt: Well, that makes sense because you can use it, I mean, it’s right in the middle of the spectrum. So you can, you know, pair it with yellow to make green, you can pair it with red to make purple or violet. So, I guess that that makes sense.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, what’s funny to me is, I’m sure this isn’t true, and yet I would say for some reason, I believe there are more shades of blue than any. You know, like there are more options for blue than any other color, which isn’t true. Every, every color you can tint and shade just the same way. But we see so much more blue that we think there are more blues than there are reds.

Derek DeWitt: Well, I, I think there are a lot more words for different shades of blue that are more commonly known. Maybe. I don’t know if I’m just saying that. I don’t even know if it’s true. But you know, I think azure, I think turquoise, I think cobalt. I think navy blue, I think sea blue.

Debbie DeWitt: Is it cerulean blue or something has shown up in literature like crazy the last few years.

Derek DeWitt: Cyan is a type of blue, you know? Like, I think, I think everybody over the age of 12 knows all those words, but I don’t know how many people really know what mauve is or really know, what certain other shades are.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, I think it’s, it makes sense because it’s been described more often. All of the water and the sky on earth are usually described in some terms of blue. So, all of your literature and conversations, and even just pictures, you know, that people talk about, or their travels, they talk about blues. In terms of the logos, I will say a lot of it’s because blue is looked at as presenting intelligence or trustworthiness or stability. Now I would love to know the origin of which came first. Did, did people create logos in blue because it, they looked at it as stable and trustworthy, or because we have over for 50% of our logos in blue, we consider it stable and trustworthy.

Derek DeWitt: You think it’s stable. Right? That makes sense. Yeah. Who knows? Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know. And then we get to purple, very often associated with wealth and luxury. Um, indigo, the coloring was more expensive than gold way back when in the ancient world. It was tightly controlled by, I’m gonna say the Phoenicians, but don’t quote me on that. And, in fact, you mentioned Pantone has a color of the year, every year. This year, 2022, the color is Very Peri, which is a kind of a, an authoritative kind of periwinkle with sort of a, they say a violet-red undertone to it. That’s the color of the year.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. It’s an awesome color. It’s like taking purple, but taking the bite out of it so that it’s calm and stable. And I know, you know, someone who’s not a designer will be like, I have no idea what you mean by that, but go look at it.

Derek DeWitt: Go look it up. It’s called Very Peri, P E R I, and it’s Pantone 17-3938. I also think that purple’s very often associated with kind of like age and wisdom. Like, you know, you think the cliché old sorcerer, the court magician, or the sorcerer with the pointy hat and the long white beard and, you know, stars and moons all over his robe, very often depicted as purple. And of course, purple bleeds into a higher frequency ultraviolet. And a lot of people, especially again…

Debbie DeWitt: Black light?

Derek DeWitt: Black light, exactly.

Debbie DeWitt: Black light posters. I grew with them.

Derek DeWitt: Black light is associated with nightclubs, dancing, trans music, house music.

Debbie DeWitt: The opposite of age and wisdom.

Derek DeWitt: So, so you know everything we’re saying about what these colors quote unquote mean? Just throw it out. It’s all garbage.

Debbie DeWitt: No, that’s not true. That’s not true. Again, we’re looking at the macro level. You know, we’re looking at a macro level, an Americentric level here. But, um, one thing to keep in mind is that light purples start to feel in the same areas as pink, especially for Americans. They can be seen as somewhat feminine. So, when you’re designing, just keep those kind of things in mind.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Though, I would like to point out that this idea that pink is a girl’s color and blue is a boy’s color is actually something like only a hundred years old.

Debbie DeWitt: And it’s also, like, so out of date now. Like, forget it. This is no longer the case. You don’t have to do yellow for your baby if you don’t know the sex. They can, girls can wear blue. Boys can wear pink. They do it all the time.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Boys can play with dolls.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. So again, that’s knowing your audience. If you’ve got a younger audience, a lot of this is not…

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. They’re not gonna, they’re not gonna make those associations. Yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. A lot of this is, is gonna be new science being done, I guarantee. They’re constantly looking. Color psychology is being updated all of the time. So again, knowing that audience, as we talked about. Purple being associated with like black lights and raves and dance clubs…

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Debbie DeWitt: …that’s the younger thing. Whereas someone in their sixties might be like, oh, I think of Crown Royal and that dark purple velvet bag, you know? And so, it’s luxury or whatever, right?

Derek DeWitt: Crown Royal. Classy.

Debbie DeWitt: Right?

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Right. Yeah. So yeah, just keep in mind that just because you have particular associations, don’t assume that everyone in your audience has those same associations.

Debbie DeWitt: That is very wise.

Derek DeWitt: Oh, it’s because I’m wearing purple. What about brown? People go, oh, brown it’s mud and dirt and you know what else. But also chocolate.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. It’s chocolate too. It’s weird. Earth tones as a group make these comebacks and then they just slide down and nobody wants to see them and everybody’s into new colors.

Derek DeWitt: Back down to the ground where they belong.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. And then they make a comeback. I mean, again, I’m thrown back to the seventies. We all, you know, had like the…

Derek DeWitt: But it was a kind of a dusky, chocolatey brown.

Debbie DeWitt: Well, there was… I remember seeing this pattern everywhere. There were t-shirts and everything on vans. Oh gosh. Where it was like cream and then orange and then earth tone. It was like a rainbow, but made out of earth tones and oranges.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Yeah.

Debbie DeWitt: But no, browns and neutrals are great. They’re often used as a base and then you pair it with something else, like a brighter hue of red or blue or something. If you have a bunch of bright primary colors or whatever, it can look very circusy, you know? So most, especially organizational brands, you’re gonna usually have some neutrals in there to offset those.

Derek DeWitt: Right. And the traditional wisdom, at least when, when I was a youngin, is that you create browns by combining opposites on the color wheel. So purple and yellow combined together become brown. Red, and green become a different kind of a brown. Blue and orange becomes another brown.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And in this category of earth tones that we’re talking about, don’t forget neutrals as well. Like, people don’t think of like a very, very pale ecru or a tan. That’s a, that’s a brown. It’s just really, really, really, really light brown.

Derek DeWitt: That’s true.

Debbie DeWitt: So, you’ll see a lot of those.

Derek DeWitt: And when you’re talking about neutrals, of course, people think gray. Gray is a mixture of black and white. Obviously in the world of light, white is all the colors blended together. And black, there is no black. Black is the absence of light and thus the ability to see. But when we’re dealing with black as a color, it’s usually in the physical world, a really, really dark purple or green or blue. But on computers and digital signs, it really is black. I mean, isn’t the hex code like 00000 or something like that.

Debbie DeWitt: Yes, it is. And actually, I was thinking about what you said there. I feel like it’s almost opposite when it comes to designing at least digitally. Um, black is sort of all colors. Because if you think about like designing, you start with a white canvas and so you don’t put anything on it. So, it’s actually the absence of doing anything and black have to add.

Derek DeWitt: Right. If I took a bunch of different colors of paint and mixed them all together, I would get black.

Debbie DeWitt: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So, when it comes to black and white and gray, we’re not gonna get into all those meanings. They have very strong connotations in different places. I think we’ve joked about, you know, in America, the black hat is the bad guy. The guy in white is the good guy. And it is exactly opposite…

Derek DeWitt: Certainly, in Hong Kong and a good deal of Asia. The good guy in the movies wears black and the bad guy wears white.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. So, so know your audience again. Um, and don’t forget about the grays. Just like those neutral colors, they’re a great base, and you can do a lot of shades of gray. Most of the programs you’re using are gonna have, you know, 10% grades of gray and they pair really well with brighter colors. Um, so those are great for, for bases. And black and white, you know, contrast is huge.

Derek DeWitt: It’s as clean and easy to read as you can possibly get.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And I think sometimes people forget and try to do too much. So, it’s like everything has to be a color. Sometimes having, if you have a screen design that’s fullscreen with half the screen black with white text and the other white with black text, it can be very visually stunning. It can be very arresting; it can grab attention. And again, it’s all about variety. You know, we’re talking about digital signs here, so we’re not saying, oh, I’ve gone in for, you know, red is a good color, or my audience really likes blue so everything’s gonna be in that color. You need to mix it all up. And sometimes you need to pull the color back or just use it as a spot color. Because that can really help draw the eye to something you’re trying to get across, like a QR tag or a call to action of some sort. Put that in the color, leave the rest of it neutral.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, sure, sure. So, when we’re talking about using colors in digital signs, obviously branding is a key, key factor. Very often organizations want to use either their brand colors or the colors that are in their brand scheme or ones that certainly don’t clash with those colors.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. And it’s unfortunate that a lot of brands have like two colors that are approved colors.

Derek DeWitt: Right.

Debbie DeWitt: And if you think of that, they’ll have two colors and then obviously black and white are on the table. Grays are on the table. Usually, they’re not gonna mind using that. But if you’re a designer and you do work for somebody who’s only got, you know, one or two colors that are approved, you know, check with your marketing department and ask them, you know, maybe they’re like, we don’t care. You know, if you use other things. But if they do ask them to come up with an extended color palette for you.

Derek DeWitt: Right. How far, how far from this shade in either direction can I, can I deviate?

Debbie DeWitt: Right. I mean, right now, the Visix brand has five primary colors plus black, white, and an 80% gray. Like, we start there, but we’re not super strict. You can of course go outside that. Now that’s for branded materials. We don’t use our branding colors for every message we put on our digital signs. There’s no reason to. We just have some basic guidelines that people follow, but really, it’s about good design. And what we do try to do is sort of color code our messages.

Derek DeWitt: Yeah. Yeah. I always think that’s a great idea. Like you said, red for alerts is, it seems like a no-brainer.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, absolutely. Like if you used red for HR announcements, that’d be weird. And we did a…

Derek DeWitt: It would be.

Debbie DeWitt: We did a, um, I think it was a blog article about color coding messages that you can look at for a little bit more guidance here. But yeah, don’t think about gray for food, you know, like? You know what I mean? I’m just like, kind of put those things together. If you have like dull gray, like there’s no good gray food in the world. So don’t use like a gray color to advertise your food court. Um, you know, go back to the McDonald’s thing of red and yellow or something. But, you know, really just make sure your color choices make sense for the content within that context. And as always in design form always follows function.

Derek DeWitt: So true. Now what about, uh, people who are visually impaired or colorblind to some extent?

Debbie DeWitt: We actually have an article on that, designing for the color blind, where you can get some tips for the best and worst color combinations. It really comes down to that color combinations and understanding color blind doesn’t mean that people just don’t see any colors.

Derek DeWitt: Right. They’re not, they’re not dogs.

Debbie DeWitt: Right. There’s usually, as I understand, there’s like red color blindness, green color blindness.

Derek DeWitt: Right. Red-green color blindness. Uh, yeah. If you have people in your organization or in your target audience who do have a particular kind of color blindness, or who might, if your audience is the general public, then just keep that stuff in mind. So, for example, having green text on a red background or vice versa for Christmas maybe isn’t a great idea, actually.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah, that’s true. And obviously vision impaired people. I mean, this comes, a lot of this can have to do with font size and text uses, but you know, colors matter too. That really comes down to contrast. Don’t put a dark color on top of a dark, like dark purple text on dark red background. Like, that’s basic contrast. If you’re gonna choose colors, make sure you choose the right shade or tint or hue that you’re using as well.

Derek DeWitt: I mean, the fact is that you are creating a visual language that you are using to communicate certain things to your audience. I mean the general public is the general public and, and you’ll never be able to predict a hundred percent who’s gonna be looking at your screens. But for internal employees, you can know who they are. And so, the fact is you can, you can look on the web and find out, you know, oh, green means wealth. No purple means wealth. No orange means stability. No, it means adventure. All, any of those things are true if you train your audience to make those associations, you know what I mean? Like you could have read for your HR announcements and green for your alerts.

Debbie DeWitt: Yeah. None of this is written in stone. And especially if those are your brand colors, you know? Sometimes you’ve got like headquarters uses one color scheme and branches or divisions have other color schemes. So, you could color code that way. So, none of this is universal. We’re not, yeah. We’re not saying, Hey, every time you throw a pastel pink thing up there, someone’s gonna get offended ’cause it’s feminine. Or you should always, yeah, having a bright red people are gonna start screaming and running for the exits. That’s not true. Uh, like we always say, know your audience. But this is just the slightest dipping of the toe into color theory. It is a vast and rich, I don’t wanna say science, psychology is the science, which is also vast and rich.

Derek DeWitt: Discipline.

Debbie DeWitt: But yes, theory is a vast, rich discipline for designers. People go and get degrees in this. It is not something you can get in a 15-minute podcast, but we just wanted to give a very brief primer of what do different colors mean. That’s really what this is about. Our color theory…

Derek DeWitt: Or, or more specifically, the consider of color should be part of your design scheme and your design thinking.

Debbie DeWitt: Oh yeah, always. I mean, we’ve got our design primer guides you can download which don’t have these specific color associations in there, but they certainly go into color and contrast and good design principles. As we say in every podcast, know your audience, know the context and know the culture. And, and you know, culture can be everything from within your walls, within certain teams, but really you need to talk about backgrounds and cultures of your audience: where they grew up, where they’re living now and things that might affect their design responses.

Derek DeWitt: First and foremost, the primary thing to think about, especially when it comes to digital signs, is legibility and readability. That means what font you’re using, whether you’re using the three by five rule, high contrast between the letters and the background. All of those things are true regardless of what colors you’re using or even if you’re just using black and white. If they can’t see it from 20 feet away, then they’re not gonna look. If it’s hard to read, no one’s gonna bother to look at your digital signs. So, you’ve just wasted time and money.

Debbie DeWitt: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Derek DeWitt: As we intimated, this is a massive topic and there are no 100% sure answers. This is not just a plug-and-play type of a thing. But it is certainly something to keep in mind, especially for more seasoned designers or people who have a bit more time on their hands and want to learn more. Again, check the transcript on the Visix website of this episode for lots of links to outside sources and some links to other things that have been written and talked about for Visix. I’d like to thank my guest today, Debbie Dewitt marketing and communications manager for Visix. Thanks Deb.

Debbie DeWitt: Thank you, Derek.

Derek DeWitt: And thank you everybody out there for listening.

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