The Psychology and Meaning of Color in Email and Websites
“What is your favorite color?
Obviously, if you ask this question to a group of people, you will get a variety (or spectrum!) of answers. Colors affect people in different ways, and much research has been published to investigate what emotional response different colors provoke.
Effective communicators know that the first rule for an effective presentation is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and structure your content for them when preparing it. Vocabulary, tone, length of material, and style are all adapted, as necessary, for each particular and unique audience.
But how important is color when designing HTML for email or website audiences? Isn’t content all that matters?
According to Psychology About.com, psychologists estimate that the response to color can account for up to 60% of the acceptance or rejection of a product or service. This suggests that modern communicators who use dynamic design elements and formatting for their email newsletters and landing pages should consider what colors are most appropriate (and effective) for their particular audience. When considering color in the context of psychology and how it might influence your audience, you should take into account the cultural, gender, and age difference of your audience.
Because we are often communicating with a global audience when we send email or design a website, it is important to understand cultural differences and the significance and interpretations that certain colors have in different parts of the world.
As an example; when I was living in Italy, a co-worker’s mother took ill and was sent to hospital. As a good US Air Force representative, I immediately started requesting donations from the office so that we could send her mother flowers and a get well card. Shortly into my fund-raising efforts, an Italian colleague approached me (thankfully, before I delivered the bouquet!). He said:
Imagine if I had sent the poor lady a dozen Chrysanthemums!
The cultural significance of color is also important to consider when communicating via email or on a website. Here are some examples of how colors have different significance between just two cultures.
Okay, so GroupMail is currently used in over 160 countries around the world. I wonder how many customers I inadvertently insulted with the color scheme of my last newsletter? Doh!
Here is more information about color symbolism by culture.
There is also a quick color guide that you can refer to for a quick reference for what feelings different colors might illicit (in western culture.)
Studies suggest that men and women respond to color differently. In The Meaning of Color for Gender, Natalia Khouw writes,
“Another study examined the appropriateness of colors used on the walls of a simulated domestic interior furnished in one of three styles; Georgian, Art Nouveau and Modern. Whitfield (1984) reported that internal consistency among women is higher than for men. When the study was broadened to include marital status, married women achieve significantly more internal consistency in each condition of the three styles than did the men.
More recently, Radeloff (1990) has found that women were more likely than men to have a favorite color. In expressing the preferences for light versus dark colors, there was [sic] no significant differences between men and women; however, in expressing the preference for bright and soft colors, there was a difference, with women preferring soft colors and men preferring bright ones.”
I recommend that you read Ms. Khouw’s full paper, The Meaning of Color for Gender
Even within cultural and gender groups, response to color can shift within age groups. Younger children will tend to prefer more active, engaging colors than adults. Dull, greyish or black and white shades appear too business-like and formal. If you take the time to look at childrens TV shows, magazines, and Internet sites, you can get a good idea of what colors attract children.
Jennifer Kyrnin, from webdesign.about.com says that “Young children tend to prefer brighter, more solid colors, while adults tend to prefer more subdued colors. If you’re writing to an audience of children and you’re using muted pastels and shades of grey, their parents might like it, but the kids will be long gone before the page finishes loading.” She also discusses differences in color significance within economic classes and over time through trends.
As modern communicators, color certainly enhances those messages that appeared somewhat dull in the black and white era not too many years ago. Color can bring an email or website to life. However, if you don’t consider the various cultural, gender and age interpretations, color can also create a reaction to your message that may be counterproductive and undesired.
So the next time you design an HTML email template, send an email newsletter or design a landing page for your website, give some thought about the colors you use, and don’t be afraid to experiment, using the research available here as a guide.
Interested? People in over 160 countries around the world use GroupMail to create newsletters in every color possible. What colors will you use? Download GroupMail today and create your own colorful newsletters.