Skip to main content

When was the last time you thought about color? Save for the occasional breathtaking sunset, or The Dress phenomenon last month, how often do you consciously stop and think about the specific shades of the world around you? Unless you’re a fashion designer, painter, or an interior decorator, it’s probably something you take for granted.

A recent video by Valspar Paint highlights just how awe-inspiring color really is. In it, they give color blindness-correcting glasses made by EnChroma to color blind people and allow them, for the first time ever, to experience color. One woman is taken aback by various shades of pink painted on the wall, another man by his child’s colorful drawings. It’s an emotional video, to be sure, and it makes one stop and think: Does color matter more than we might think? Unlike blindness or deafness, someone who is colorblind has not lost total use of a sense—they can still see—but the tear-jerking reactions make clear that the ability to see color might be more important than we usually give it credit.

As it happens, researchers have been studying the fundamental importance of color for years. It’s hard to gather empirical data on color as it relates to the quality of one’s life; most research in this area deals with memory and brand identity. Yet the data clearly sheds light on just how powerful a tool color can be.

As far as brands are concerned, the importance of color cannot be overstated. (Think UPS’ brown, T-Mobile’s pink, or John Deere’s green, all of which have been trademarked.) The Seoul International Color Expo found that, when deciding which product to purchase, 92.6 percent of respondents report relying on visual factors, such as color. For comparison, only 5.6 said touch was most important, while 0.9 percent said hearing and smell. (I, for one, am genuinely curious about that 0.9 percent who are literally sniffing out a product's value.) More specifically, 84.7 percent said that, when taking into account all of the various factors that lead one to purchase one brand over the other, color is more important than all other factors combined. Considering that about 73 percent of purchasing decisions are made in-store, catching the shopper’s eye via color is a brand’s most valuable weapon.

Ninety percent of the businesses polled also said that customers remember presentations and documents better when color is used,while 83 percent believed that color enhances employee creativity.

A 2003 study by International Communications Research and Xerox confirmed just how aware businesses are of color's importance. Polling a range of American-based small businesses, they found that 90 percent of those surveyed believe that color can assist in attracting new customers. Ninety percent of the businesses polled also said that customers remember presentations and documents better when color is used, while 83 percent believe that color enhances employee creativity.

The success that color can bring to a brand may be the result of its effectiveness on memory, as researchers at Oxford University and the University of Newcastle discovered in 2002. Their study revealed that, when asked to recall specific elements of an image, participants who were shown that image in color, as opposed to black and white, performed five to 10 percent better. In addition, they found that other factors, such as duration of exposure to the image, “play no major role.” That may be because, as they discovered, color increases attention.

While these studies argue for color's role in branding, marketing, or recognition, their results can be applied to our everyday lives, too. They show, after all, how personal—how fundamental, really—color is. Color works in ways the conscious mind would never be able to understand.

Lead photo: (Photo: Ms. Phoenix/Flickr)