Colours Matter

Colours Matter

Tuesday 12th May 2020
Mark Elkins

Stroop Test : For more on the Stroop Effect - [[]]

How many times have you been involved in projects, or tasks, where the status is given as being Red, Amber or Green (RAG) ? Sometime referred to as the Traffic Light system it is a convention which most companies have adopted that simply conveys the degree of risk of success, or failure, of a project.

Even if you haven't been involved in a RAG meeting before you could guess that the RED status would be bad, AMBER status may have some issues that need to be addressed, and GREEN is good. It's the association we make with those colours. They are used in everyday life. If in a foreign country you are crossing the road its safe to assume that the red light facing pedestrians means don't cross. Danger. A Green light means cross, all clear. An amber or green flashing light means don't start to cross, be aware if you are mid-way.

The convention of colour has been instilled into us humans for centuries. And in Marketing is used to support the written word, and even product, to provide a subliminal support, to make that message stronger.

So what happens when the written word and background colour don't match. If, for example on a crossing Green was supported by the words "Don't Walk", and Red by the word "Walk". What if there were just two project status' - the GR report - with the Green meaning the project was high risk, and the Red the converse. The written message would be at odds with what's normally associated with the colour

Confusing isn't it? The Stroop Test shows how confused the mind becomes when colours and words are mismatch. Just Google the Stroop Test.

One Government have recently changed their messaging.The message, on yellow, now has green rather than a red border. The messages promotion caution, rather than danger, which could be normally be associated with amber. The green border, associated with positive, go, or good news dulls down the written messages, in the sub-conscious, reducing their importance. It is a moot point whether this is deliberate or an error.

So when you are next providing content, online or in hard-copy, for an audience think about what the background colours supporting the primary message mean to them, and whether you want what is intended to be conveyed to be clear or ambiguous. Also have consideration to societal differences, where colour may have additional or different associations within different cultures.

After all, verbal messages aren't just about what is said but also about the way it is said. Similar could be applied to the written copy and the colours used to convey a message.