A New Course On Color And Design

I’m so excited to be adding courses on color and design to our online training curriculum.

Katie Stern, who has multiple degrees, books, and lots of experience designing with color and teaching others how to do the same, has put together the first course in what will be a whole curriculum on Color and User Experience (UX) Design.

The first course is Color Terms, Tools And More. I took it myself and learned so much from it. I highly recommend it.

Here’s a short introduction to the course:

If you use the promo code


when you register you will receive 35% off the regular price. This special price is for two weeks, March 1 to 15, 2018.

Here’s some more info about the course:

You will learn color terminology, the basics of color theory, and how to communicate color information with your team.

If you are analyzing or designing a product or website, then you are working with color. Making color choices can be unconscious or intentional, depending on how much thought you put into them. Identifying colors that will create a great user experience can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t have the vocabulary to communicate about color with your UX team members. When you learn color terminology you will be better able to communicate your color design intentions.

You will learn:

The challenges involved with naming colors
The difference between the additive and subtractive color systems
How pigment color is different than digital color
How monochromatic color schemes are built
The definition of tints, tones, and shades and how to create them
How the Adobe Color Picker and Paletton help build color schemes

and much, much more!

So check out the course and let us know if you have any questions.

The Visual Cortex And Design

Logo for HumanTech podcastDid you know that here is a part of the visual cortex that is sensitive just to a tilted line? Or that some people see millions more colors than the rest of us do? On this episode of Human Tech we talk about the strange and interesting science of vision and how it affects visual design.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Red Or Blue?: Research On Screen Color That May Surprise You

a red square and a blue squareHow does color affect our behavior when we are doing things online? Does it make a difference what the color background is? Does it depend on what we are reading or doing? Can you affect people’s decisions and behavior by changing the background color of a particular page or screen?

Research by Ravi Mehta and Rui Juliet Zhu from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia looks at these questions. In a fairly comprehensive set of different studies Mehta and Zhu found some interesting color effects. I describe the six studies below (but if you can’t wait for the punchline skip down to the “take-aways” section).


In the first study people were first given anagrams to solve. Some of the anagrams used “avoidance” words, for example ‘prevent’, some of the words were “approach” words, for example ‘adventure’, and some were “neutral”, for example, ‘computer’.  Sometimes the words were on a red background and sometimes on a blue background. People solved the avoidance words faster when they were on a red background (compared to blue or neutral) and they solved the approach words faster when they were on a blue background (compared to red or neutral).

The second task in this study had people read brand descriptions and then rate each brand on a scale from 1 to 7. Some of the brand descriptions had a message of a negative outcome you would want to avoid – for example a toothpaste that would prevent cavities. Others had messages of approach – for example a toothpaste that whitens your teeth. When the brands were on a blue background people preferred brands that were described with the approach or positive description. When the brands were on a red background people preferred the brands that had avoidance messages.


In the second study people were given a “detailed” task — memorizing words. They were given 36 words to memorize in 2 minutes. Then they were asked to recall the words 20 minutes later. For some people the background screen was red, others blue and others neutral. People who did the task with the red screen remembered more words correctly than people with the blue or neutral background. People with the blue background would remember as many words as red, but several of the remembered words were actually false (i.e., they were not in the set of words originally memorized).

In the second part of study 2 people completed a “creative” task – they were asked to come up with as many creative uses for a brick as they could in 1 minute. A panel of judges rated how creative the list was. Some of the people worked on a red screen, others blue, and others neutral. The color didn’t affect how many ideas people came up with, but people working with a blue screen had more creative solutions than those in the red or neutral.


In Study 3 people were asked to read sets of names or addresses which were either identical or were slightly different. It was a proofreading task. The participants had to decide whether one name and address matched another. Some people did the task on a blue screen, others on red and others on a neutral color. The participants were also asked afterwards whether they were focusing on avoiding mistakes or going quickly. People working with a red screen were more accurate on the task than people working on a blue or neutral screen. People working on a red screen also were more likely to report that they were trying to avoid mistakes.


In Study 4 people were given a sheet of paper with drawings of different parts. They were asked to use any five parts and use them to design a toy that someone age 5 to 11 would play with. The parts were printed in either red or blue. Judges (using black and white copies of the design) then rated the designs based on originality and novelty (creativity) vs. practicality and appropriateness (attention to detail). Red toys were judged to be more practical and appropriate than blue. Blue toys were judged to be more original and novel.


In study 5 people were shown ads for a camera on a computer screen. The ad was presented with a background color of either red or blue. In some versions of the ad there were pictures that showed product details of the camera, for example the lens. Other versions included visuals that were not about the camera, for example, a road sign,  or a map, which would use creative thinking to connect the camera to a road trip. Participants rated the ads for their appeal and effectiveness. When the screen was red people rated the ad more highly when it included the specific product detail visuals. When the screen was blue then people rated the ad more favorably when the visuals were more conceptual.


In study 6 people were given tasks in black font on a white background screen. They were told that one of the tasks required detailed and careful processing of information and that another would require creative, imaginative and “out of the box” thinking. They were asked to select which color, red or blue, they thought would enhance their performance on each task. People picked blue for BOTH tasks, i.e., they believed that blue would enhance their performance no matter what the task.

Here are my take-aways from this research:

  • If you are using a negative or fear message it will be more impactful if you use the color red. If you are using a positive message then use blue.
  • If you want people to do a detail-oriented task use a red background. If you want them to be creative use a blue background.
  • If you are highlighting detailed features of a product your message will be more persuasive if you use a red background. If you are highlighting concepts of how to use the product then the message will be more persuasive with a blue background.
  • People prefer blue backgrounds over red, even though red might make them get a task done more quickly. They are not aware of the effects that the colors are having.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These studies were all done in North America. There are cultural effects of color, so these results may NOT hold in different parts of the world.

What do you think? Are you willing to use red?

And if you like to read the research:

Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) ZhuBlue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada. www.sciencexpress.org / 5 February 2009 / Page 1 / 10.1126/science.1169144



100 Things You Should Know About People: #51 — You React To Colors Based On Your Culture

US Map with ColorsMany years ago I worked with a client who had created a color map of the different business regions for their business, showing the total revenue for the quarter for each region. Yellow was for the Eastern part of the US, green for the Central, etc. They had used red for the western states. The VP of Sales gets to the podium and starts his slide show to the financial and accounting staff of the company. Up comes the colored map. A gasp can be heard in the auditorium, and then there is the buzz of urgent conversation. The VP tries to continue his talk, but he has lost everyone’s attention. They are all talking amongst themselves. Finally someone blurts out, “What the heck is going on in the West?!” “What do you mean?”, the VP asks, “Nothing is going on. They had a great quarter”.

What does red mean? — To an accountant or financial person red is a bad thing. It means that they are losing money. The presenter had to explain that they had just picked red as a random color.

Colors have associations and meanings — Red means “in the red” or financial trouble, or it could mean danger. Green means money, or “go”. You want to pick colors carefully since they have these meanings.

Color meanings change by culture — Some colors have similar meanings everywhere, for example, gold stands for success and high quality in most cultures, but most colors have different meanings in different cultures. For example, in the US, white stands for purity and is used at weddings, but in other cultures white is the color used for death and funerals. David McCandless of Informationisbeautiful.net has a color chart that  shows how different colors are viewed by different cultures.

McCandless Color Wheel
McCandless Color Wheel


  • Choose your colors carefully, taking into account the meaning that that color may invoke.
  • Pick a few major cultures/countries that you will be reaching with your design and check them on the cultural color chart from David McCandless to be sure you do not have some unintended color associations for that culture.

What do you think? What color meanings have you found in your work that surprised you?